One of the main objectives of man’s honorable vicegerency mission on earth is establishing, spreading and living peace. By peace it is meant peace with Allah the Creator and Master, the people, the environment with its animate and inanimate realities, and the self.
Peace is also meant to be realized at all levels of existence: personal and social, local and global, and physical as well as metaphysical.
The Prophet (pbuh) said that al-Salam (Peace as well as the Source and Embodiment of Peace) is one of the names of Allah, and Allah has ordained it on earth, so “spread it (as a truth, reality and greeting) among yourselves” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
When Almighty Allah sent Adam, as the first human being and prophet, to earth, He acquainted him with this ontological purpose: “Get down all of you from this place (the Paradise), then whenever there comes to you Guidance from Me, and whoever follows My Guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve” (al-Baqarah, 38).
“Then if there comes to you guidance from Me, then whoever follows My Guidance he shall neither go astray, nor shall be distressed. But whosoever turns away from My Reminder, verily, for him is a life of hardship, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection (Ta Ha, 123-124).
In consequence, the Islamic tradition of greeting with salam commenced with the first man and prophet on earth, Adam, as well.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Allah created Adam and he was sixty cubits tall. Then He said: ‘Go and greet those angels and listen to how they greet you, for that will be your greeting and the greeting of your progeny.’ He said: ‘Al-salamu ‘alaykum (Peace be upon you).’ They said: ‘Al-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmat-Allah (Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah).’ So they added the words wa rahmat-Allah” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
The greeting of salam is not just a greeting; it is a supplication whereby a person wishes and implores Allah to grant another person, or a group of persons, that which is coveted most: peace. When pronounced in full, salam also includes Allah’s mercy and blessings.
The people articulate thereby their aspirations and hopes to attain peace and become its embodiment and source. They wish to become an instrument of its spread to the spheres where its light is yet to shine and inspire.
Salam, it goes without saying, contains the gist of life’s mission and purpose. It is their microcosm.
After Muhammad (pbuh) had been sent as the final prophet with the final revelation of Islam to mankind, the idea of peace (salam) as life’s quintessential design and people’s ultimate existential goal has been underscored more categorically than ever before.
The Night of Power (Laylatu-l-Qadr) -- during which the revelation of the Holy Qur’an and with it Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophethood began -- and all that transpires then is described as salam (peace) (al-Qadr, 5).
That is because during Laylatu-l-Qadr angels greet each other and the believers with salam; or because Satan’s trickeries in general during the month of Ramadan and in particular during Laylatu-l-Qadr are rendered completely futile, or their scope of influence is being greatly restricted; or simply because everything, especially in the spiritual realm, associated with that Night is about peace and tranquility. That is one of the reasons why that Night is most blessed and is better than a thousand months (al-Qadr, 3).
Exchanging salams is a confirmed sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh), which may be categorized as an obligation. However, some specify the matter in such a way that saying salam to another Muslim(s) is a sunnah, whereas replying to it is an obligation.
There are great rewards for exchanging salams. Ten rewards (hasanat) are given for saying salam ‘alaykum (peace be upon you), twenty for salam ‘alaykum wa rahmat-Allah (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah), and thirty for salam ‘alaykum wa rahmat-Allah wa barakatuhu (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings) (Sahih al-Bukhari).
The rewards are not there just on account of salam being a form of greeting. Rather, such is the case because with salam a Muslim, apart from wishing, also assures his fellow Muslim(s) that from him comes nothing but peace, safety and security.
Moreover, when saying salam and genuinely meaning what is being said, a person tells another person(s) targeted by his salam that he is (they are) safe from his potential evil and harm. When he receives salam in return, he, too, gets assurance that he is safe from his, or their, potential evil and harm.
When two or more persons separate, they are again required to exchange salams, thus implying that in each other’s absence they are all safe from each other’s potential malice and detriment. They are safe, for example, from each other’s backbiting, spying, plotting, jealousy and any other form of physical, mental and even spiritual harm.
This way, a general aura of peace and wellbeing is generated from which not only people – Muslims and non-Muslims alike -- but also the whole environment, benefit.
In other words, salam as a greeting is a contract, or a bond, which ought to be honored by both parties. It is a pledge that a person will contribute his bit to attaining and safeguarding the greatest at once individual and communal asset: peace, without which a question mark will always persist over every individual and communal civilizational undertaking.
Salam as a greeting is not a cultural symbol or manifestation. Nor is it a cliché that could be so overused or misused that it might lose its original meaning and effect.
Rather, salam is a statement of intent and purpose, as well as a declaration and program of action. It is furthermore an assertion of identity and character. It defines a person, helping him to be distinguished and to distinguish thereby.
Salam is not a meaningless and obsolete slogan, nor mere words. It is the threshold of a peace action. The kernel of salam is also the key to mutual understanding and cooperation.
It follows that peace (salam) is essential and indispensable. It is a good upon which every other good depends. It is a divine gift and blessing which man should strive to keep at all costs. Only when peace is lost do people realize its true meaning and benefit. No gain or blessing compares to peace, just as no loss or harm compares to the loss and harm of losing it.
A hint at such a devastating, especially psychological, state is given by the words of Prophet Adam and his wife Hawa, after they had been removed from Jannah (the Garden or Paradise), the place of ineffable beauty, felicity and peace, to the earth, the place of perennial trials and conflicts between good and evil during which sometimes the former and at other times the latter prevails: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers” (al-A’raf, 23).
No wonder that among the first words which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had pronounced after arriving in Madinah from Makkah, in order to advance his prophethood mission from a largely individual spiritual and intellectual experience to a complex community and civilization building enterprise -- a feat called hijrah or migration – were the following ones: “O people, spread peace (salam), offer food to people and pray at night when people are sleeping, you will enter Paradise in peace” (Sunan Ibn Majah). The critical significance and role of peace is readily apparent.
On more than one occasion did the Prophet (pbuh) relate the notion of salam and its spreading, both as a greeting and life paradigm, to the other major religious requirements, regarding them collectively as prerequisites for entering Jannah (Paradise). He also said: “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is! You will not enter Jannah until you believe, and you shall not believe until you love one another. May I inform you of something, if you do, you will love each other? Spread peace (salam)” (Sahih Muslim).
It goes without saying that Islam, as a comprehensive belief system and code of living, is all about peace (salam). It does everything to ensure its institution and preservation, not only among Muslims, but also non-Muslims.
As a result, such concepts as justice, trust, brotherhood, human honor and dignity, enjoining good and forbidding evil, helping others in multiple ways, etc., are deemed supreme in Islam. At the same time, such vices as injustice, oppression, distrust, mischief, corruption, violation of people’s basic human rights, causing harm to people or the environment, etc., are regarded as most detrimental to the individual and societal wellbeing. Against the backdrop of these verities, the pivotal tenet of jihad (struggle or effort to make Allah’s Word supreme) is also to be observed. Because it is often approached and studied from wrong perspectives, jihad remains the most misunderstood principle in Islam.
It is therefore no coincidence that both Islam (submission) and salam (peace) are derived from the same root, conveying different, but in essence relatively close, meanings. Thus, only in a state of total peace can Islam be most ideally practiced, whereas ultimate peace can only be realized in a state of total submission to Almighty Allah, the Creator, the Master and the Ultimate (Absolute) Being and Reality. Ideally speaking, there can be no true Islam without salam, nor can there be genuine salam without Islam.
That is why salam (peace) as a greeting, comprehensive in meaning and effect, extends from the physical to the metaphysical realm. It accompanies man from the very commencement of his existential journey to the very end. It is a boon and tradition of this world (dunya) as well as the Hereafter (akhirah).
Salam was there when the father of mankind, Prophet Adam, was created. It continued throughout the long history of humankind and its numerous prophets. It played such a prominent role during the groundbreaking community and civilization building ventures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), remaining afterwards as a means of instilling love and fostering understanding and solidarity between Muslims until the Day of Judgment.
In addition, when departing from this world into the Hereafter, those in a pious state who kept their duty to Allah, when their souls are taken by the angels, will also be greeted by the words salam ‘alaykum (peace be upon you) “enter you Paradise, because of (the good) which you used to do (in the world)” (al-Nahl, 32).
Likewise, when they are led to Jannah in groups, “till, when they reach it, and its gates will be opened (before their arrival for their reception) and its keepers will say: salam ‘alaykum (peace be upon you)! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein” (al-Zumar, 73).
Inside Jannah, too, their mutual greeting will be salam ‘alaykum: “Their greeting therein will be: salam (peace!)” (Ibrahim, 23).
Because Jannah is a place of exchanging salams (“They shall not hear therein any laghw -- dirty, false, evil vain talk -- but only salutations of peace, or salam” (Maryam, 62)), and because it is the ultimate, absolute and perfect abode of peace, which every pure human soul incessantly longs and strives for, it is called Dar al-Salam (the Home of Peace) (al-An’am, 127).
In passing, some of the meanings of salam are likewise being safe, secure, in a good state, unblemished and free from imperfections. Certainly, those attributes befit Jannah more than anything else.
It is truly fascinating to note that the journey of human existence is primordially set -- and meant to unfold -- between two salams, signifying the beginning and the end: the salam of Prophet Adam to the angels, and the salams of Almighty Allah and His angels to the inhabitants of Jannah, Dar al-Salam (the Home of Peace).
If a person is admitted into Jannah, that means that he stayed true to himself, and true to the ontological and purely spiritual implications of the concept of salam, and thus fulfilled his life purpose. However, if a person is eventually cast into Hell (Jahannam), that means that he was untrue to himself, and untrue to the meanings and effects of salam, and thus failed to fulfil his life purpose. His belated and so, hollow realization of this truth, and the truth that he will be forever banished from Jannah as Dar al-Salam (the Home of Peace), and that he will be denied eternally the Mercy and Forgiveness of Allah al-Salam (Peace as well as the Source and Embodiment of Peace), will denote one of the most agonizing sufferings associated with Hell (the Burning and Fierce Fire) and its inhabitants.
Instead of the peace of Jannah, the latter’s eternal destiny will be the torment of Hell. He will be deprived of peace in the Hereafter because he failed to actualize and live peace in this world.
As far as the prophetic mission of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the spiritual lives of such as follow it are specifically concerned, they are also sandwiched between two salams: the salam (peace) of the Night of Power (Laylatu-l-Qadr), when the whole most revolutionary process in human history was inaugurated, and the salams connected with the Hereafter and Jannah.
That being said, it is both painful and disturbing to see today’s Muslims -- especially youth -- increasingly abandoning the profoundly reach and meaningful concept of salam as a greeting in favor of some peculiar, bogus, meaningless and sometimes outright nonsensical alternatives, some of which are home-grown while others are of foreign origin. In worst-case scenarios, a person may walk in a college or university campus for hours, hearing all sorts of greeting, except salam, which is frowned upon and looked upon as an anomaly. Yet, as a perceived sign of Muslim cultural incompetence and backwardness, salam may sometimes be the object of public ridicule and mockery.
Undoubtedly, the main reasons for this decadent phenomenon are ignorance and negligence, which shows how challenging the prospect of reviving Islamic culture and civilization, in fact, is, and that, when all is said and done, the best strategy might just be going back to basics.
Finally, the definitive aim of every Muslim should be to live in total submission to the Will of his Creator and Master (islam), and in peace (salam) with his Creator, other people, the environment and his self, the latter being as much corporeal as psychological and spiritual. His being muslim should embrace and exemplify the spirit and all the constituents of both domains.
The pinnacle of the amalgamation process between submission (islam) and peace (salam) is a state which the Holy Qur’an depicts as the state of a reassured soul in complete peace, rest and satisfaction (al-nafs al-mutma’innah) (al-Fajr, 27). Such a state is solely spiritual in nature, and is in its own way indicative of a person’s success while in this world. Its repository is the soul, or the heart, and its effects do not necessarily spill over into the physical world.
In such a perfect state, a person is called back to his Lord: “Come back to your Lord, well-pleased (yourself) and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter you, then, among My honored slaves; and enter you My Paradise (Jannah)” (al-Fajr, 28-30).
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