The Arabs used to greet one another with the words “An’im sabaahan” or “An’imu sabaahan” (“Good morning”), using words derived from “al-ni’mah”, which means good living after the morning. The idea was that because the morning is the first part of the day, if a person encounters something good in the morning, the rest of the day will be good too.
When Islam came, Allah (swt) prescribed that the manner of greeting among Muslims should be “al-salaamu alaykum” and that this greeting should only be used among Muslims and not for other nations. The meaning of salaam (literally, peace) is harmlessness, safety and protection from evil and from faults. The name al-Salaam is a Name of Allah (swt) so the meaning of the greeting of salaam which is required among Muslims is: “May the blessing of His Name descend upon you.” The usage of the preposition ala in alaykum (upon you) indicates that the greeting is inclusive.
Ibn Qayyim mentioned the value and virtues of the Islamic salutation and said: “Allah, the Sovereign, the Most Holy, the Peace, prescribed that the greeting among the people of Islam should be ‘al-salaamu alaykum’, which is better than all the greetings of other nations which include impossible ideas or lies, such as saying, ‘May you live for a thousand years,’ or things that are not accurate, such as ‘An’im sabaahan (Good morning),’ or actions that are not right, such as prostrating in greeting. Thus the greeting of salaam is better than all of these, because it has the meaning of safety which is life, without which nothing else can be achieved. So this takes precedence over all other aims or objectives. A person has two main aims in life: to keep himself safe from evil, and to get something good. Keeping safe from evil takes precedence over getting something good…” (Badaa’i al-Fawaa’id, 144)
RasulAllah (saw) made spreading salaam a part of faith. It was narrated from Abd-Allah ibn Umar (ra) that a man asked RasulAllah (saw): “What is the best thing in Islam? He (saw) said: Feeding others and giving the greeting of salaam to those whom you know and those whom you do not know.” (Bukhari; Muslim; Ahmad, Musnad; Abu Dawud; Nasai; Ibn Hibban)
Ibn Hajar said: “i.e., do not single out anybody out of arrogance or to impress them, but do it to honour the symbols of Islam and to foster Islamic brotherhood.” (Fathu’l-Bari, 1/56)
Ibn Rajab said: “The hadith makes the connection between feeding others and spreading salaam because this combines good actions in both word and deed, which is perfect good treatment (ihsaan). Indeed, this is the best thing that you can do in Islam after the obligatory duties.” (al-Fath, 1/43)
Sanusi said: “What is meant by salaam is the greeting between people, which sows seeds of love and friendship in their hearts, as does giving food. There may be some weakness in the heart of one of them, which is dispelled when he is greeted, or there may be some hostility, which is turned to friendship by the greeting.” (Ikmaal al-Mu’allim, 1/244)
Qadi said: “Here RasulAllah (saw) was urging the believers to soften their hearts. The best Islamic attitude is to love one another and greet one another, and this is achieved by words and deeds. RasulAllah (saw) urged the Muslims to foster love between one another by exchanging gifts and food, and by spreading salaam, and he forbade the opposite, namely forsaking one another, turning away from one another, spying on one another, seeking out information about one another, stirring up trouble and being two faced. Love is one of the duties of Islam and one of the pillars of the Islamic system. One should give salaams to those whom one knows and those whom one does not know, out of sincerity towards Allah; one should not try to impress other people by giving salaams only to those whom one knows and no-one else. This also entails an attitude of humility and spreading the symbols of this ummah through the word of salaam.” (Ikmaal al-Mu’allim, 1/276)
Thus RasulAllah (saw) explained that this salaam spreads love and brotherhood. It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (ra) that RasulAllah (saw) said: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I not tell you about something which, if you do it, you will love one another? Spread salaam amongst yourselves.” (Muslim; Ahmad, Musnad; Tirmidhi)
Qadi Iyad said: “This is urging us to spread salaam, as mentioned above, among those whom we know and those whom we do not know. Salaam is the first level of righteousness and the first quality of brotherhood, and it is the key to creating love. By spreading salaam the Muslims’ love for one another grows stronger and they demonstrate their distinctive symbols and spread a feeling of security amongst themselves. This is the meaning of Islam.” (al-Ikmaal, 1/304)
Imam Nawawi presented salaam as a requirement of iman and said: “Abu Hurayrah (ra) reported that RasulAllah (saw) said: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love each other. Shall I direct you to a thing that, if you do it, you will love one another. Spread the salaam among yourselves.”
“As for his (saw) saying: “You will not believe until you love each other.” It means: Your iman will not be complete, nor will your affairs be genuine with the iman, except by loving each other.
And as for his (saw) saying: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe.” It must be taken in its apparent and general sense, so that no one will enter Paradise unless he dies a believer, even if his iman is not perfect, and this is what is obvious from the hadith.
Shaykh Abu Amr (Ibn as-Salaah) said that the meaning of this hadith is that: “Your iman will not be complete except through mutual love, and none of you will enter Paradise when its inhabitants enter it, until you are in this state.” And this saying of his is the correct intended meaning, and Allah knows best.
As for his (saw) saying: “Spread the salaam among yourselves.” It involves a great directive for spreading the salaam as well as extending it to all of the Muslims, those you know and those you do not. The salaam is the initial means of acquaintance, and the key which promotes love. Its spreading strengthens the bond among Muslims. It is a display of the motto that distinguishes them from the peoples of other religious creeds. In addition to all what it encompasses of training oneself to what is good, to humbleness, and to honoring the sacredness of the Muslims.
Bukhari (ra) has mentioned that Ammar Ibn Yasir (ra) said: “There are three qualities, whoever acquires them has acquired iman: Being just against oneself; giving the salaam to everyone; and spending (giving charity) without stinginess.”
Others besides Bukhari have reported this from the words of RasulAllah (saw).
“Giving the salaam to everyone.”; “giving the salaam to those whom you know and those whom you do not know.”; and: “Spreading the salaam.” all of these hold the same meaning. There is in this yet another significant point: Spreading the salaam involves removing hatred, hard feelings, and enmity that may be present (among people), and that cause them to loose their din; it also indicates that giving the salaam is for Allah, not to follow one’s own desires or to favor only one’s companions and loved ones with it. And Allah (swt) knows the truth.” (Sharh Sahih Muslim)
RasulAllah (saw) also explained the reward earned by the one who says salaam, as was reported from Abu Hurayrah (ra) that a man passed by RasulAllah (saw) whilst he was sitting with some others, and said? “Salaam alaykum (peace be upon you). RasulAllah (saw) said: (He will have) ten hasanaat (rewards). Another man passed by and said? Salaam alaykum wa rahmat-Allah (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah). RasulAllah (saw) said? (He will have) twenty hasanaat. Another man passed by and said: Salaam alaykum wa rahmat-Allahi wa barakaatuhu (peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings). RasulAllah (saw) said: (He will have) thirty hasanaat.” (Nasai, Aml al-Yawm wa’l-Laylah, # 368; Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, # 586; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, # 493)
RasulAllah (saw) commanded us to return salaams, and made it a right and a duty. It was reported from Abu Hurayrah (ra) that RasulAllah (saw) said: “The Muslim has five rights over his fellow-Muslim: He should return his salaams, visit him when he is sick, attend his funeral, accept his invitation, and pray for mercy for him (say “Yarhamuk Allah”) when he sneezes.” (Bukhari; Muslim; Ahmad, Musnad; Abu Dawud; Nasai, al-Yawm wa’l-Laylah, # 221)
It is clear that it is obligatory to say salaam and return salaams, because by doing so a Muslim is giving you safety and you have to give him safety in return. It is as if he is saying to you: “I am giving you safety and security,” so you have to give him the same, so that he does not get suspicious or think that the one to whom he has given salaam is betraying him or ignoring him. RasulAllah (saw) told us that if Muslims are ignoring or forsaking one another, this will be put to an end when one of them gives salaam. It was reported that Abu Ayyub (ra) said: “RasulAllah (saw) said: It is not permissible for a Muslim to forsake his brother for more than three days, each of them turning away from the other if they meet. The better of them is the first one to say salaam.” (Bukhari)
Narrated from Uthman ibn Affan (ra): “When RasulAllah (saw) died, some of his companions were so much aggrieved (at his death) that they were disposed to doubts. Uthman said: I was one of them. While I was sitting there happened to pass by me Umar and he offered me salutation which I did not notice. Umar made a complaint of that to Abu Bakr. Then both of them came and offered me salutation and
Abu Bakr said: What prompted you to ignore the salutation of your brother, Umar.
I said: I never did that.
Umar said: By Allah, of course you did that.
I said: By Allah I did not perceive that you passed by me and paid salutation.
Abu Bakr said: Uthman is speaking the truth and something must have absorbed your mind (that you did not take notice of this matter).
I said: Yes it is so.
He said: What is that?
I said: Allah has taken away His Prophet (saw) before we asked him how we could free ourselves from the snares of the world and the devil.
Abu Bakr said: I did ask about that.
So I got near to him and said to him: May my father and mother be taken as ransom for you and you were the worthiest to ask.
Thereupon Abu Bakr said: I said to RasulAllah (saw), how one could free oneself from the snares of the world and devil.
Thereupon RasulAllah (saw) said: He who accepted from me the word that I presented to my uncle which he rejected is the freedom (from them); (Affirmation of the oneness of Allah and the Apostle-hood of Muhammad).” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
Narrated from Anas ibn Malik Anas (ra) or someone else told that RasulAllah (saw) asked permission to enter the house of Sa’d ibn Ubadah (ra) saying: “Peace and Allah’s mercy be upon you. Sa’d replied: And upon you be peace and Allah’s mercy, but did not speak loud enough for RasulAllah (saw) to hear. He gave the salutation three times and Sa’d responded three times, but did not speak loud enough for him to hear, so RasulAllah (saw) went away. Sa’d went after him and said: O RasulAllah, for whom I would give my father and mother as ransom, you did not give a salutation without my hearing it and responding to you, but I did not speak loud enough for you to hear because I wanted to receive many of your salutations and so receive great blessing. They then entered the house and he offered him raisins which RasulAllah (saw) ate. Then when he finished he said: May the righteous eat your food, may the angels invoke blessings on you, and may those who have been fasting break their fast with you!” (Tirmidhi, Sharh as-Sunnah)
Abu Hurayrah (ra) said: “The most miserly of all people is one who is miserly with greetings. The weakest of all people is a person who is weak in (making) du’a (supplication prayer).” (Bukhari)