The Greeting of Peace-Security (Al-Salam Alaykum): Uncovering the Basis of Islamic Peace
A distinctive characteristic of Muslims is the exchange of greetings saluting one another with al-salamu alaykum! - along with the response …wa alaykum al-salam! This is usually translated as “peace be upon you!” and “and upon you peace!” (This is a shortened form of the fuller phrase; see below.) Here salam is normally understood today as ‘peace’, while its sense might better be rendered: ‘greetings of security-peace’. This greeting is known as tahiyyat al-islam, ‘the salutation of Islam’, and conveys wishing for the other person that God grant them a long successful life of peace secure from harm. When the Prophet’s paternal cousin Jafar b. Abi Talib in 615 (seven years before the migration of the Prophet to Medina in 622) described the essence of Islamic guidance to the Ethiopian Emperor, the ‘Negus’ (al-Najashi) of Islamic literature, at his court in Axum, Jafar emphasised this ‘salutation of Islam’ as a new practice specific to their religion. A closer examination of this important phrase frequently expressed on the lips of Muslims, discloses how inseparable the conceptions of security and peace truly are in Islamic experience.