Allah trains us step-by-step through testing, and He guides to His Straight Path all who are willing to be guided. Those rightly guided are intended to live in the world as a united effort for good. How do we encourage one another to form and maintain a righteous broherhood? One enduring means is through the mechanism of Ṣalla and Sallam.
ON THE STRAIGHT PATH – THE MECHANISM OF Ṣalla AND Sallam
We human beings are severely restricted in our ability to know the Unseen. In contrast to those limits, our religious prescriptions are spelled out in behavioral terms which we can readily comprehend. In fact, we have the capacity to choose, moment-by-moment, either to comply with them, to ignore them, or, God forbid, even to flaunt them. Adherence to right behavior and sincere intent is rewarded by Allah; righteous individuals are built into a collective, righteous community bound up in mutual esteem, cooperation and brotherhood.
Indeed, all the believers are brethren. Thus, set aright [relations] among your brothers. And fear God, so that you may be shown mercy. [Sûrah Al-Hujurât, 49:10]
Abu Musa reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
A believer is like a [building] brick for another believer, the one supporting the other. (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim 2585)
Al-Zubair bin Al-‘Awwam narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“The disease of the nations [who lived] before you is creeping towards you: Envy and hatred, it is [like] the haliqah (‘razor’). I do not speak of what cuts the hair, but what severs the religion. By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love each other. Shall I tell you about what will strengthen that for you? Spread [the practice of greeting with] ‘Salâm’ among one other.” (JamiC Al-Tirmidhi)
A razor blade is a tool developed by mankind for useful and legitimate purposes, but a cutting sharpness —like that of a razor— can be misused to destroy or terminate harmonious relationships, even end life. Envy and hatred are extremes of emotion and attitude which, if used against our fellow humans and if then left to fester like an infected wound, can destroy the peaceful brotherhood of a community.
This practice of greeting one’s brother with salâm is to be taken seriously as a means for maintaining proper brotherly attitudes. In the case of lapsed or damaged relationships, the greeting of salâm can ‘break the ice’ toward repairing the breach.
Hisham ibn ‘Amir al-Ansari, the cousin of Anas ibn Malik whose father was killed in the Battle of Uhud, narrated that he heard the Messenger of Allah say, “It is not lawful for a Muslim to snub another Muslim for more than three nights. As long as they are cut off from each other, they are turning away from what is rightfully due. The first of them to return to a proper state has his expiation for that —inasmuch as he was the first to return to a proper state. If they die while they are cut off from each other, neither of them will ever enter the Garden. If one of them greets the other, and he refuses to return the greeting or to accept the greeting, then an angel returns the greeting to [the first] and Shaytan answers the other.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 402)
The prescribed practice of greeting with salâm is a straightforward act by which to assert and establish the basis on which Muslims are to deal with each other. All of us thereby maintain the awareness that we are to make room for our fellow believers as family members—helping and being helped. The exchange of salâms puts one into communication mode and invites us to take the next step of engaging in a meaningful personal interaction.
Our brotherhood is an essential component of our Dîn, our mandated way of life. Since the practice of greeting with salâm has been institutionalized in our communities, there are protocols to govern the details. For example,
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah said,
“When one of you comes to a gathering, he should give the greeting. If he leaves, he should give the greeting. Neither is more of a duty than the other.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 1007)
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
The rider should first greet the pedestrian, and the pedestrian the one who is seated and a small group should greet a larger group (with al-salâmu-Calaykum). (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim 2160)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam that the Messenger of Allah said,
“The one riding greets the one walking, and when one of a group of people gives a greeting, it is enough for all of them.” (Muwatta Malik 53/1)
We even close our Prayers with the greeting of salâm, turning our faces first to those on our right and then to those on our left.
“The Prophet would say the Salâm from his right and from his left (saying): (As-Salâmu Calaikum wa rahmatullah; as-Salâmu Calaikum wa rahmatullah) ‘Peace be upon you, and Allah’s mercy. Peace be upon you, and Allah’s mercy.’ (JamiC Al-Tirmidhi 295)
Even if no one is seated at your right or left, your greeting extends to any and all fellow Muslims at whatever distance in either direction.
The act of greeting our brethren with salâm whenever we meet them is a simple habitual routine with positive and far-reaching repercussions. Wishing safety, security, freedom from threat or anxiety —that is, wishing salâm— to one’s brother is a means for taking part in his psycho-spiritual health and including him in our community’s social support. His answering with salâm completes the cycle of the mutual exchange.
As with the other behavioral acts prescribed in Islam, this practice is psychologically sound at a penetratingly deep level in bringing about the desired result of building unity in community. And as with any other Islamic practice, the best results —the full effects—come when one and all are fully aware of the spiritual scope indicated for it. The greeting of ‘salâm’ —when practiced as a greeting among Muslims— is designed to create, build and maintain loving relationships and a spirit of cooperative interaction.
The full exchange is a little more involved than simply repeating a two-syllable word, sa-lâm. The one who initiates the greeting will say,
as- sa-lâ-mu Ca-lái -kum
The-security [be] upon-you.
The initiator of the greeting should be the one moving into the space of another person. The implication is: ‘I come upon you with peaceful intentions; you need have no fear at my presence.’ The one who is stationary, or who realizes the approach of the greeter, will return the greeting, preferably adding something of content value to the received phrase. For example, after poetically reversing the order of the two elements of the original greeting ( 1 2 –> 2 1), then the responder adds another phrase:
wa Ca-láy -kum as- sa-lâm, wa ar-ráh-ma-tu Al-láh
+ 2 1 +
And upon-you the-security, and the-mercy (of) Allah [(also) upon you
This is the practice of greeting with salâm, as referred to in the aHadith quoted above.
…whenever you are greeted with a salutation, then return the greeting with an even better salutation. Or, [at the least,] return it [in kind]. [Sûrah Al-Nisâ, 4:86]
The greeting of salâm was not new with Prophet Muhammad. It has a divine pedigree, a history and a future.
And very truly, Our messenger-angels came to Abraham [in the form of men] with the glad tiding [of a son]. They said: Peace (salâm) [to you! And to them] he said: Peace! (salâm)… [Sûrah Al-Hûd, 11:69]
When you enter [such] homes, greet-[each other]-with-peace (sallim-û)— a greeting from the very provenance of God, blessed and wholesome. [Sûrah Al-Nûr, 24:61]
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“Allah created Adam, making him 60 cubits tall. When He created him, He said to him, ‘Go and greet that group of angels, and listen to their reply, for it will be your greeting (salutation) and the greeting (salutations) of your offspring.’ So, Adam said (to the angels), Al-salâmu 3alaikum (i.e. Peace be upon you). The angels said, “Al-salâmu 3alaikum — wa rahmatu ‘llahi” (i.e. Peace be upon you —and Allah’s Mercy). Thus the angels added to Adam’s salutation the expression, ‘Wa rahmatu ‘llahi‘ (i.e., “and Allah’s mercy”). Any person who will enter Paradise will resemble Adam (in appearance and figure). People have been decreasing in stature since Adam’s creation. (Ṣaḥîḥ Bukhari 3326)
But those who believe and do righteous deeds shall be admitted into Gardens beneath which rivers flow—wherein they shall abide forever, by the permission of their Lord. Their salutation therein shall [forever] be: Peace! (salâm) [Surah Ibrâhîm, 14:23]
‘Salâm’ is a greeting which facilitates the tying together of hearts in brotherhood, as all believers are to participate together in receiving and sharing the blessings of Allah.
In addition to the practice of salâm, there is a second reciprocal relationship which the Muslim is to engage in: He is to ‘pray to Allah/ supplicate to Allah/ ask Allah/ invoke Allah to send His blessings’ (ṣalla)’ upon Muhammad. Note the small difference in pronunciation between the two VERB word roots:
- s – l – m (‘to be in a state of security, of peacefulness, of lack of resistance or rebellion, or of freedom from agitation’)
s – l l – m (‘to greet with the aspiration for security and peace’)
- ṣ – l – w (‘to bend body in adoration, offering prayer’)
ṣ – l l – w (‘to invoke blessings of exaltation’)
The second word root contains a ‘heavy Ṣ sound’ and does not end with <m>. Corresponding NOUN forms of the two above word roots:
- salâm (‘Peace!’)
islâm (submission to the way of Allah)
- ṣalâh / ṣalât (the ritual Prayer of praise and supplication)
ṣalawât (plural form of ṣalâh)
When the Muslim articulates this request (ṣalla) [#2], reminding himself of the Prophet’s lofty status in the sight of Allah, he consciously participates in Allah’s exaltation of His prophet—since it is Prophet Muhammad who has led us to the blessings of security and peace of heart (salâm) [#1] that come with submission (islam) [#1] to Allah.
Say [to humankind, O Prophet]: Indeed, I have been commanded to worship God [and no other], making the [practice of my] religion [pure and] sincere to Him [alone]. Thus I have been commanded to be the foremost of those who are muslims, [in willing submission (islâm) to God [alone]. [Sûrah Al-Zumar, 39:11-12]
This day: I have perfected your religion. And I have completed my grace upon you! And I am well-pleased for you with Islam— [profound peace in submission to God]—as your religion… [Sûrah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:3]
When a Muslim invokes or calls upon Allah to exalt (ṣalla) [#2] Muhammad, it is a way of cementing his own relationship of support to his prophet —as well as a way of framing his supplication (his personal requests to Allah) with correct intention.
Fadalah bin `Ubaid reported:
The Messenger of Allah heard someone supplicating after his Prayer without praising Allah and without supplicating Allah for the Prophet (i.e., saying, ṣalla-llâh-u Calay-hi wa sallam). With regard to him, the Messenger of Allah said, “This man rushed.” Then he called him and said, “When any one of you have performed ṣalah (Prayer) and wants to supplicate, let him praise Allah first, then glorify Him in the beginning [of his personal request], and then he should supplicate Allah for me (that is, ṣalla + sallam). Then he may supplicate for whatever he likes [for himself].” [Sunan Abu Dawud and JamiC Al-Tirmidhi].
The same salâm (#1) with which we greet each other is also to be used as a greeting from believers to Prophet Muhammad. We exalt Allah in our personal praise of Him, but in tandem we ask Allah to exalt (ṣallû) (#2) the name, the reputation, of Allah’s prophet among mankind.
O you who believe! Remember God with much [mention of praise and] remembrance. Thus highly exalt Him, early morning and late afternoon. He is the One who pronounces blessings (yu-ṣalli) [that descend] upon you [with His mercy]—and so too His angels [make supplication for you]—to bring you forth from the [veils of] darkness into the light [of faith and guidance]. For He is ever merciful to the believers. Their salutation [from God], the Day they meet Him, shall be: “Peace!” (salâm) … Truly God and His angels pronounce blessings [of exaltation] (yu-ṣallûna) upon the Prophet. O you who believe! Invoke [God’s] blessings [of exaltation] (ṣallû) upon him, and give yourselves up (sallim-û) [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender (taslîman). [Sûrah Al-Ahzâb, 33:41-44, 56]
The mechanism of invoking salâm upon each other as believers also applies to invoking salâm and exaltation upon God’s Messenger. This practice of greeting with salâm builds a reciprocal relationship between us believers [the receivers] on the one hand, and our Lord [the Giver], on the other —just as that same practice builds and cements that mutual trust, goodwill and cooperation bond among believers [mutually giving and receiving].
Not surprisingly, we are closer to Allah, submitting to His requirements (taslîm) (#1), when we follow His Messenger, who has given us God’s guidance.
Verily, We have sent you [O Prophet] with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner … Say: “Behold, God’s guidance is the only true guidance.” And, indeed, if you should follow their errant view after all the knowledge that has come unto you, you would have none to protect you from God, and none to bring you succour. Those unto whom We have vouchsafed the divine writ [and who] follow it as it ought to be followed – it is they who [truly] believe in it; whereas all who choose to deny its truth – it is they, they who are the losers! [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:119-121]
One way that we maintain our attachment to His Prophet, and thus to Allah, is through invoking God’s blessings of exaltation (ṣallû) (#2) upon His prophet. Nor are the angels passive bystanders: The angels are making supplications to God on our behalf while they join in asking God’s elevation of the Prophet!
Truly God and His angels pronounce blessings [of exaltation] (yu-ṣall-ûna) (#2) upon the Prophet. O you who believe! Invoke [God’s] blessings [of exaltation] (ṣall-û) (#2) upon him, and give yourselves up (sallim-û) (#1) [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender (taslîm-an) (#1). [Sûrah Al-Ahzâb, 33:56]
Narrated Abu Mas’ud Al-Ansari:
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came to us while we were sitting in a gathering of Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah. Bashir bin Sa’d said: ‘Allah ordered us to invoke supplication (ṣalli) (#2) upon you, so how do we invoke supplication upon you?'” The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was silent, until we thought that we had not even asked him. Then the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Say: O Allah! Pronounce exaltation (ṣalli) (#2) upon Muhammad and upon Muhammad’s family just as You have pronounced exaltation (ṣallai-ta) (#2) upon Ibrahim and upon Ibrahim’s family. And bless (bârak) Muhammad and Muhammad’s family just as You have blessed (bârak-ta) Ibrahim and Ibrahim’s family among the nations. Indeed You are praised, the glorious.’ …And the Salâm is as you have learned.'” (JamiC Al-Tirmidhi 5/44/3220)
Asking believers to participate in the exaltation of Prophet Muhammad is not a form of over-inflated ego on our Prophet’s part —or unwarranted hero worship on the part of Muslims. All the Prophets of Allah were human beings divinely selected for a mission and are to be held accordingly in high rank by Muslims.
And take note that We have taken from all the prophets their covenant—from you, from Nûḥ and ‘Ibrâhîm and Mûsâ and CÎsa, the son of Maryan. And we took from them a solemn coverant – so that [at the end of time] He may question the truthful [believers] about their truth. And He has prepared for those who cover up [the Truth] a painful punishment. [Sûrah Al-Ahzâb, 33:7-8]
Rather, it is a reminder to us all that the leader under whose banner man can best flourish is the exemplary human prophet who has come close to our Creator, one appointed by Him to teach and remind us of the Straight Path.
`Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-`As reported:
I heard the Messenger of Allah saying: “Whoever supplicates Allah to exalt my mention (ṣalli… ṣalâh), Allah will exalt his mention tenfold.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim 15/1)
Ibn Mas`ud reported:
The Messenger of Allah said: “The people who will be nearest to me on the Day of Resurrection will be those who supplicate (ṣalâh) Allah more often for me.” (JamiC Al-Tirmidhi 15/2)
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The miser is the one in whose presence I am mentioned but he does not invoke blessings (yu-ṣalli) on me.” (JamiC Al-Tirmidhi 15/7)
It was narrated that Abdullah said:
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Allah has angels who travel around on Earth conveying to me the Salams of my Ummah.'” (Sunan Al-Nasa’i 1282)
When we mention Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and invoke God’s blessings of exaltation (ṣalâh) [#2] upon him, thereby we put ourselves at peace (salâm) [#1] with Allah —in submission to His revelation as we know it from what His prophet brought us. We yield to the Divine Law as Angel Gabriel has made it known to our Prophet through the revealed verses, the Quran, and through our Prophet’s exemplary words and deeds, the Sunnah. Invoking God’s blessing of exaltation (ṣalli) [#2] upon Allah’s Prophet brings us closer to Allah, as we ask Allah to exalt the reputation of Muhammad and his message among mankind.
Allah’s asking us to exalt His divinely sent prophet in our remembrance of Allah is a way of causing us to direct our attention to our dependence upon Him as the Source of all we have, whether in terms of His material provision or in terms of His spiritual guidance through our Prophet. All of our possessions have originated with our Creator and Maintainer, regardless of the many or few intermediaries through which they have arrived to us.
…To be continued in Part 11