Asalamu aliakum, y’all,
I really want to think about that greeting. Asalamu alaikum. It is such an integral part of being a Muslim. We use it endless times during the day, in our prayers, our dhikr and in our dealings with others. It is a tool of peace, words of kindness and good wishes. With this simple phrase we are making a dua, a plea, to Allah, asking for peace for whomever it is we wish it towards. It is profound and when returned upon us, it is a form of deeper communication than mere words can express. Exchanging this greeting with another is a means of tying us back to generations past, leading all the way to The Prophet salahu alaihi wa salam. It encompasses the very hope that many have when coming to Islam and it provides the comfort of inclusion when lonely and needy. Thus I would like to start with a Command from Giver of Peace about the greeting of peace…
“When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally…” (Surah An-Nisa: verse 86)
Contemplating this quote, I am reminded that not returning the salams one is given is haram. And I suspect that it is none too difficult for most to ascertain why this is, and here we get to the negatives of this powerful greeting. How many times have I been out, with my young and impressionable son in tow, and have given my salams to a muslimah only to be given a dirty look or ignored completely? How many sisters do I know who have been through the same experience, or worse? I know sisters, yes more than one, who have been asked to recite the shahada before a salam was returned. Or told outright that they couldn’t be real Muslims because of: their race, their clothing, their ‘sect’, the scholars they study with, the list seems endless.
So when my son and I went to a Tim Horton’s yesterday before hitting the meat shop, I was hesitant to give salams to an older woman who was working there. Sulay and I walked in and she was the first person we saw, and we smiled at each other, but I just didn’t have the strength to put myself out there, especially with my son in tow. So I just smiled. Smiled and regretted not giving salams, but also regretted not giving this sister the benefit of the doubt, which is one of her rights over me, as her sister in the deen. Ten minutes later, enjoying a cuppa while Sulay ploughed into a bagel and crème cheese, over she walked and in a very strong voice said ‘asalamu aliakum sister’ to which I gratefully replied and had a short conversation with her. When I asked her how her day was going, she seemed genuinely surprised, and gleefully happy, that I had asked. I wondered how often she is overlooked. How many times have her salams have been ignored? Probably, if she is like too many sisters I know, it’s too often.
The harm in not returning a greeting of salam is obvious. And we can level all of the spiritually bypassing platitudes of ‘well, it’s her haram and she will have to atone for it’ that we want, but it doesn’t actually repair the hurt, or the damage, that this ignorance creates. Not returning a salam seems to me almost as though the offender is making a takfir upon the greeter. It’s not much of a stretch of imagination really. If someone refuses to return your salam, based on whatever reason, they must on some level think you are not actually Muslim. And this is a scary thought. It’s bringing the worst of Islamic extremist thought, based upon the teachings of the so called salafi ‘scholars’ (I use the word scholar so hesitantly that I almost gagged while typing it) into our daily life, our daily actions. I have known sisters who have literally removed themselves from community life completely as a way to avoid this brush off, which at best is embarrassing and at worst so much more. It damages the spirit, it isolates, and it suggests that the one giving the greeting is somehow unworthy or lesser. It suggests that the one whose salam is being ignored is not actually part of the Ummah.
What’s the solution? Education, of course. That’s always the easy answer, isn’t it? I for one have decided, thanks to that sister at the coffee shack, that I am always going to give salams from now on. I took that kindness at Timmies as a sign from the One Who Gives Signs, and I am going to roll with it. When I am ignored I am going to call the sister to task. I may not make a scene, but I am going to chastise the sister who ignores me or gives me the dirty look. I am going to quote Quran at her and I am going to remind her, in as diplomatic a tone as I can muster, that it is part of our deen, part of loving the One Who Loves, to return the greeting. It’s all I can do.
Wishing you Love and Light…