I was talking with some acquaintances and the question went into greeting the particular phrase of السلام عليكم (as-Salaam ‘alai-kum) to non-Muslims. Is it a devotional expression to be specifically directed at Muslims only, or a general greeting which can be mentioned to anyone?
Short answer: Yes, you can convey Salam to non-Muslims.
- It is permissible to greet to non-Muslims with the Salaam; this opinion was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn Mas’ud, Abi Umamah, Ibn Muhairiiz, ‘Umar ibn Abd al-‘Aziz, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, al-Sha’bi, al-Auza’ii, and al-Thabarii. This opinion was also selected by Rashid Ridha in Tafsir al-Manaar, and Sheikh Shinqiti in Ad-waa’ al-Bayaan.
- The permissibility is also supported by the generality (شكل مطلق) of the following Qur’anic verses which do not state the exclusivity of Salam to Muslims only. In fact, it is the opposite; especially when one is faced with rejection.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لا تَدْخُلُوا بُيُوتًا غَيْرَ بُيُوتِكُمْ حَتَّى تَسْتَأْنِسُوا وَتُسَلِّمُوا عَلَى أَهْلِهَا ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
“O You who believe! enter not houses other than Your own, until You have asked permission and greeted (tusallimuu) those in them, that is better for you, in order that You may remember.” (Al-Nuur:27)
وَإِذَا سَمِعُوا اللَّغْوَ أَعْرَضُوا عَنْهُ وَقَالُوا لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ سَلامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لا نَبْتَغِي الْجَاهِلِينَ
“And when They hear vain talk, They turn away therefrom and say: To us Our deeds, and to you yours; peace be to you (salaamun ‘alaikum), we seek not the ignorant.” (al-Qasas:55)
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الأرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلامًا
“And the servants of Allah Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorants address them, They say, “Peace” (salaamaa).” (al-Furqaan:63)
وَلَئِنْ سَأَلْتَهُمْ مَنْ خَلَقَهُمْ لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّهُ فَأَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ
وَقِيلِهِ يَا رَبِّ إِنَّ هَؤُلاءِ قَوْمٌ لا يُؤْمِنُونَ
فَاصْفَحْ عَنْهُمْ وَقُلْ سَلامٌ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ
“If Thou ask them, who created them, They will certainly say, Allah. How then are They deluded away (from the truth)?
(Allah has knowledge) of the (Prophet’s) cry, “O My Lord! Truly these are people who will not believe!”
But turn away from them, and say “Peace” (salaamun)! But soon shall They know!” (al-Zukhruf:87-89)
قَالَ أَرَاغِبٌ أَنْتَ عَنْ آلِهَتِي يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ لَئِنْ لَمْ تَنْتَهِ لأرْجُمَنَّكَ وَاهْجُرْنِي مَلِيًّا
قَالَ سَلامٌ عَلَيْكَ سَأَسْتَغْفِرُ لَكَ رَبِّي إِنَّهُ كَانَ بِي حَفِيًّا
“He (Ibrahim’s father) said: Do You reject My gods, O Ibrahim (Abraham)? If You stop not (this), I will indeed stone you. So get away from Me safely before I punish You.
Ibrahim (Abraham) said: Peace be on You (salaamun ‘alaika)! I will ask Forgiveness of My Lord for you. Verily! He is unto Me, ever Most Gracious.” (Mariam:46-47)
- Also the following sahih hadiths which indicate the permissibility of giving the Salam towards everyone.
Narrated by عبد الله بن عمرو RA:
أن رجلا سأل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أي الإسلام خير قال تطعم الطعام وتقرأ السلام على من عرفت ومن لم تعرف
“A man asked the Messenger of Allah: Which Islam is the best? He (the Prophet) said: To give food and convey Salam to those who know you, and those you do not know.”
– Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others
أفشوا السلام بينكم
“Convey Salam between all of you.”
– Muslim, Al-Tirmidzi, Ibn Habbaan
- Meanwhile those who are of the opinion that giving Salam is not permissible to non-Muslims based it on the sahih hadith narrated by Muslim:
لا تبدأوا اليهود ولا النصارى بالسلام
“Do not greet (lit. start) the Jews and Christians with Salam.”
However according to the same fatwa, the hadith above is specifically related to situation of the ongoing war at that time, as is explained in other sahih narrations by Imam Ahmad, al-Tabrani, and al-Bukhari:
إني راكب غدا إلى يهود، فمن انطلق منكم معي فلا تبدأوهم بالسلام فإن سلموا عليكم فقولوا: وعليكم
“I am going to ride to the Jews tomorrow. Who goes out with me, do not greet them with Salam. But if they greet you with Salam, then say: And upon you.”
Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751AH/1350CE) commented that this was applied only during the battle which resulted when Banu Quraizah broke their treaty with the Muslims at the time:
هذا كان في قضية خاصة لما ساروا إلى بني قريظة بعد أن نقضوا العهد ووقفوا إلى جانب الكفار للقضاء على المسلمين قال: “لا تبدأوهم بالسلام” فهل هذا حكم عام لأهل الذمة “أهل الكتاب” أم يختص بمن كانت حاله بمثل حال أولئك “بنو قريظة”؟ هذا موضع نظر.
“This was a special case when they marched towards Bani Quraizah after they (Banu Quraizah) broke the pact and stood with the non-Muslims to eliminate the Muslims. He (The Prophet PBUH) said: “Do not greet them with Salam.” Is this rule applied broadly to the citizens (loose translation of ahl al-zimmah) and People of the Book, or is only specifically for the likes of Banu Quraizah? This is the point of deliberation.”
- And al-Mawlawi also viewed that if a Muslim is greeted with Salam from a non-Muslim, it becomes obligatory for the Muslim to answer the Salam, following the Qur’anic verse:
وَإِذَا حُيِّيتُمْ بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا
“When You are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally. Certainly Allah is ever a Careful account Taker of All things.” (an-Nisaa’:86)
More details of the khilaf can be read from Min al-Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat al-Muslimah.
Other fatwas on the issue can be read here.