Greeting the kuffar (disbelievers)

Islamic law is based on very specific incidents that occured in Muhammad’s life.  Instead of teaching universal goodwill and fair manners and treatment of all, it specifies different standards for Muslims and Non-Muslims.  Not initiating greetings and not responding to greetings are two examples of how Islam doesn’t teach good manners towards non-Muslims.

Why is it in Islam that non-Muslims are given unfair treatment in greetings?  Doesn’t Islam come with a superior moral system for all of humanity?

It’s because Islam is not from God, it is the invention of Muhammad who made up laws to deal with situations as they arose in his life.

The Islamic greeting is “As-salamu alaikum” (Peace be upon you).

The response is “Wa alaikum assalam” (And to you peace)

One of the rulings is Sunni Islamic Fiqh teaches Muslims to not respond this way to non-Muslims.  It also teaches not to initiate greetings.

Initiating greetings (salams) to the non-Muslim

This is not permitted according to the follow narrations:
Do not greet the Jews and the Christians before they greet you and when you meet any one of them on the roads force him to go to the narrowest part of it. (Muslim and Tirmidhi).
Abu Hurairah (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Do not initiate the saluting of Jews and Christians (when you meet them), and if you meet any of them on the road, force him to go to the narrowest part of the road (i.e. do not give way for them to pass, but keep going). (Muslim)

Classical scholars said:

Ahmad Bin Hanbal commented on the above Hadith: “Going by this Hadith is better than any other contrary opinion”. Ibn Hajar is of similar opinion, while commenting on the above Hadith, he said: “The most credible of all these (views) is what is evident in the above Hadith, although it is specific to the People of the Book. Ibn Katheer also, while commenting on the verse on greeting (Qur’an 4:86) said: “But as to non-Muslim citizens (Alum Dimmit) one should not initiate to them the greetings of salaam” Abu Haneefah and Malik Bin Anas detested initiating salaam with non-Muslims.[ref]Rules of Greeting non-Muslims in Islam (Saying Salaam/Replying Salaam)[/ref]

THe modern Salafi scholar Ibn Uthaymeen said:

He believed initiating greetings of any sort with non-Muslims is a sort of honor given to them which they don’t deserve. He categorically spelt out that it is prohibited (Haraam) to greet them with salaam. He further said: “Because it is a humiliation for a Muslim when he starts to honor a non-Muslim”[ref]Rules of Greeting non-Muslims in Islam (Saying Salaam/Replying Salaam)[/ref]

Responding to the salams of a Non-Muslim

Even though the Quran demands that a person should respond in equal or greater to a greeting, this was overruled in Islamic fiqh by the statements of Prophet Muhammad in regard to non-Muslims.

The Quran states:

And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant. (4:86)

But Muslims often don’t respond to Non-Muslims greetings in full despite this verse because of several sayings attributed to Muhammad:

Muslim reported in his Saheeh (14/144) from Anas ibn Maalik that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When the People of the Book say salaam to you (greet you by saying al-salaamu alaykum), say ‘Wa ‘alaykum’ (and unto you).’”

According to another report, he was asked, “The People of the Book say salaam to us. How should we respond?” He said, “Say, ‘Wa ‘alaykum.’”

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary:

The scholars agree that the greeting of the People of the Book should be returned, if they greet us with salaam, but we should not say to them, “Wa ‘alaykum al-salaam (and upon you be peace).” We should say only “ ‘alaykum (upon you)” or “wa ‘alaykum (and upon you).”

From among the contemporary scholars, Ibn Uthaimeen said it is okay if you are SURE they said “As-SALAM alaikum” (Peace be upon you):

“If a non-Muslim greets a Muslim by saying “al-saamu ‘alaykum” (Death be upon you), then we should respond by saying ‘wa ‘alaykum (and also upon you). The fact that the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “wa alaykum” (And upon you also) indicates that if they were saying “as-salaamu ‘alaykum” (Peace be upon you), then peace will also be upon them, that is, whatever they say to us, we say to them. Hence some of the scholars said that if a Jew, Christian or other non-Muslim clearly says “al-Salaamu ‘alaykum”, it is permissible for us to say “Alaykum al-Salaam” (upon you peace be)[ref]Rules of Greeting non-Muslims in Islam (Saying Salaam/Replying Salaam)[/ref]

The history behind this is because according to the hadith some Jew said “As-samu Alaikum” (death be upon you) to Prophet Muhammad, and this is what happened:

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “When the Jews greet anyone of you they say: ‘Sam’Alaika (death be upon you); so you should say; ‘Wa ‘Alaika (and upon you).'” (Bukhari and others)

So forever now Muslims can never say “Wa alaikum assalam” (And to you peace), but can only say “Wa alaikum” to non-Muslims.  Forever, yup.  Because of some Jews back then that thought it would be funny.  Check out what else they tried to do:

The Jews used to sneeze in the presence of the Prophet (ﷺ) hoping that he would say: ‘May Allah have mercy upon you”. So he said: “May Allah guide you and rectify your affairs” (Tirmidhi, Abu Daud and others)

Thats right.  The perfection of character, mercy to the world Prophet Muhammad taught us that we cannot ask for God’s mercy on disbelievers when they sneeze.

Muslim Achoo!
Response: May God have mercy on you

Non-Muslim Achoo!
Response: God guide you!

Now why on earth does Islam require a different response to a sneeze based on what faith you are?  Doesn’t this reflet a too much of us-vs-them thinking?

Praying for non-Muslims after they die

This is also forbidden:

As for after their death, it is impermissible (haram) to make dua for forgiveness and the like for a non-Muslim, for Allah Most High said, “It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to pray for the forgiveness of unbelievers even though they may be near of kin after it has become clear that they are people of hell-fire.” (9:113)[ref]Can We Pray for Non-Muslims Who Passed Away?[/ref]

In conclusion

In conclusion, Islamic law is based on very specific incidents that occured in Muhammad’s life.  Instead of teaching universal goodwill and fair manners and treatment of all, it specifies different standards for Muslims and Non-Muslims.  Not initiating greetings and not responding to greetings are two examples of how Islam doesn’t teach good manners towards non-Muslims.  Islam is not from God, it is the invention of Muhammad who made up laws to deal with situations as they arose in his life.


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7 thoughts on “Greeting the kuffar (disbelievers)

  1. Illuminating article. Thank you for writing and being brave enough to put your thoughts out there. I especially appreciate you linking to sources and references that practicing Muslims can go look up.

    Related to this article, but perhaps food for thought for another article, is how some Muslims will reject these hadith (even though sahih), claiming that they go against the spirit and ethical voice of the character of whom they believe to be their Prophet, and the context they ascribe to otherwise problematic verses of the Qur’an.

    It really seems to come down to which version of history people believe has merit; which hadith can be thrown out, etc. The truly historical version of Muhammad vs. the idealized, re-constructionist view of Muhammad.

    As an ex-Muslim myself originally an Ahmadi Muslim, this is where I believe the discussion ends up moving to. For example, Ahmadi Muslims would say, “Those hadith, even though sahih, must be thrown out because clearly they are inhumane and our Prophet was a mercy for mankind”, etc.

    1. Welcome my brother and thanks for your comments 🙂 Happy to meet another ex-Muslim. PS nice blog too. I’ll add it to my blog list. I don’t find people reject saheeh hadith (at least not in my conservative group of friends), rather they will say you have to look at the context, etc.. Or they will simply redefine it as correct because “Prophet Muhammad said it” so it must be right.

  2. Thank you for the warm welcome, brother Abdullah! I hope to join you in writing compelling pieces of writing, spurring on critical thinking.

    I believe you’re right about the conservative circles. Illuminating these problematic hadith, referencing them and posing questions for critical introspection will bear fruit with the majority of the conservative mainstream Muslims.

  3. I hope you understand that your article is just a silly rant. I thought you were really on to something but I am disappointed.

    For starters, ‘Assalamu alaikum’ is not only a greeting. It is a duaa which invokes Allah with His beautiful Name, Assalam. Allah’s Name Assalam, means The Perfect and the Giver of Peace.

    Ibn Katheer states: As Salaam is the One who is Free from all imperfections and deficiencies, because of the Perfection of His Being, of His Attributes and His Actions. He is So Perfect, He does not have any imperfections. For example, He is Living and is free from the imperfection of death. His Knowledge is free from the imperfection of forgetfulness. His Attributes are free from the imperfection of being similar to any creation. His Actions are perfect, whatever He does there is Hikmah (wisdom) behind it.

    Al Qurtubi states: As Salaam is the One who is safe from all deficiencies. He explains as Salaam in three ways:
    1)      The One free from every fault, and He is absolved of every deficiency.
    2)      He gives Salaam to His ebaad (slaves) in Jannah. We learn from the Qur’an that the dwellers of paradise will be greeted with salaam, by Allah, by the angels and by each other. In surah Yaseen verse 58, Allah ta’ala says: سَلَامٌ قَوْلًا مِن رَّبٍّ رَّحِيمٍ People in Jannah will be told “Salaam, a statement from their Rabb, the Most Merciful.”
    3)      The One whose creation is free from His dhulm (injustice). He keeps His creations safe from any injustice on His part and His creation is free from injustice from Him. What does this tell us? If Allah is As Salaam, there is no way He can be unjust. Many times we read in the Qur’an: ‘Allah did not wrong them, rather they wronged themselves’.

    Given these facts, there is no point greeting a non-Muslim with Allah’s Name, Assalam because they don’t believe in Allah, or the concept of Paradise or judgment which this Name embodies.

    It’s like asking a Christian, why he doesn’t greet you with 1 Corinthians 1:3 “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” It wouldn’t make any sense because you are not a Christian. In fact, if he did greet you with this salutation every day, you would take offense and think that he is enforcing his beliefs upon you. In the same way, Muslims would not push Allah’s Name upon non-Muslims.

    Secondly, Although Muslims may not great non-Muslims with Allah’s Name Assalam, (the Perfection, the Peace Giver), we are commanded to behave with Salam (peace) with non-Muslims.

    Salam means:
    a)      to be peaceful, to be friendly, to be in a good state
    b)      to be free from imperfections
    c)      to be safe and secure

    We see in the Qur’an that a quality of ebaadur Rahmaan (worshippers of The Most Merciful) is: “and when the ignorant address them, they reply with words of peace” (25:63). They say “salaama” to the ignorant, meaning they are not confrontational or aggressive. They excuse themselves in a friendly was from people who are behaving in an obscene and vulgar manner. They don’t disturb the peace.
    The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) defined a true Muslim as someone who avoids harming other Muslims with his tongue (words) and hand (actions) – Sahih Bukhari. He (s.a.w) also said, “a Muslim does not cause haram or return harm” not even to those who provoke him – Sunan Ibn Majah.

    Finally, the rest of your arguments about greeting Jews when they sneeze and yiddi yaddi yada – is splitting hairs overs something so trivial. Your rants went from being silly to petty.

    Allah’s mercy is also His Jannah. So the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) praying for guidance for a Jewish person is by default asking Allah to grant Him Jannah when he accepts and acts upon that guidance.

    1. Why does it make sense that the beautiful religion of Islam sent to the Best of Mankind, Mercy to the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad not allow a prayer of peace and blessings upon a person who does not believe? This does not make any sense. But good try.

  4. Funerals are a spiritual rite of passage to the next world. Every religious group holds a private ceremony reflective of their belief system. A funeral prayer in Islam, as with any other mainstream religion, is a privilege for those who accepted and lived the faith. A person who never believed in Allah will obviously not want Allah’s forgiveness at his funeral. Why would you want to pray to Allah to reward an Ismaili deceased person with His gifts and blessings in the Hereafter, when this deceased person never believed in such concepts and never worked for such goals?

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