The literal translation of saying “Assalamu-alaikum” is “Peace be with you.” It should be noted that however much the circumstances may change, the meaning of the universal greeting among Muslims stays constant. Both in times of happiness and in times of calamity, the Muslim is obligated to wish peace upon others. This is a theme that carries great weight in a society where Islam is largely perceived as a violent and destructive religion. The irony here is that the very greeting that is used by one Muslim to another emphasizes safety, the complete opposite of violence.
The importance of saying salaam transcends that of most other acts in Islam. According to Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘as, upon being asked which act in Islam is the best, the Prophet (pbuh) replied, “To give food, and to greet everyone, whether you know or you do not." Here, the significance of greeting others is mentioned alongside the charitable act of providing nourishment for those around you. So, in addition to the obvious benefits of saying salaam, Muslims will also be rewarded abundantly for doing so in the hereafter.
One notable detail about the narration above is that the Prophet (pbuh) singles out the importance of greeting new people. As college students, this aspect of salaam is especially relevant. With the influx of incoming freshmen and transfer students each academic year, the salaam has a distinct meaning for each individual. For the anxious freshman, saying salaam could be a way of overcoming those feelings of nervousness and fear. More importantly, it is a means of creating a network of friends that will continue and expand over the coming years. On the other hand, the salaam might represent something entirely different for the senior: an opportunity to impart one last piece of wisdom prior to graduation. Above all, however, the salaam is the gateway to creating the tightly-knit Muslim community that we constantly strive to become. In light of recent political events, the need for true sisterhood and brotherhood has never been greater.
As important as commencing the salaam may be, returning it is equally vital, if not more so. In fact, while giving salaam is considered to be a Sunnah, replying is strictly necessary, or wajib. Even more, it is better to respond to a salaam with an addition, such as “wa alaikum assalaam wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuh.” The Prophet (pbuh) once proclaimed, “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 when he sneezes.” By mentioning the returning of a salaam in the same breath as the attendance of a Muslim’s funeral, it becomes apparent just how seriously we should treat the salaam, even though it is oftentimes quite easy to underestimate its worth.
The beauty of the salaam is found in its ability to bond Muslims together in a way that sets aside race, gender, age and personal stances. As college students, it is easy to fall into the trap of avoiding sisters and brothers whom you might not know or get along with. However, the benefits of taking a few seconds to say salaam are too numerous to count. The point? Don’t avoid eye contact (unless you’re running late for an organic chemistry exam; in that case, full steam ahead!) and embrace the Sunnah of the Prophet of Allah. By doing so, we will not only become closer to each other, but also to Allah (swt), whose ninety-nine names include As-Salaam, or the Source of Peace and Safety. When it comes to saying salaam to others, it’s so simple, so effortless, and yet the rewards that come with it are anything but simple.