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The greeting is regularly exchanged during Muslim lectures and sermons. The typical response to the greeting is "Wa-Alaikum-Salaam" ("and upon you Peace") or "Wa-Alaikum-us-Salaam" ("and upon you the Peace").
The term in Arabic begins with the definite article al with the l assimilating to the following consonant s of Salaam. The use of the definite article is a specific reference to Peace as granted by Allah.
The expression may be modified by choosing the appropriate enclitic pronoun to address a person in the masculine and feminine singular form, the dual form, or the feminine plural form. The conjugations are as follow (note: according to the standard pronunciation rules of classical Arabic, the last short vowel in each word is not pronounced unless it is followed by another word):
- masculine singular As-salāmu ʿalayka (عَلَيْكَ)
- feminine singular: As-salāmu ʿalayki (عَلَيْكِ)
- dual: As-salāmu ʿalaykumā (عَلَيْكُمَا)
- feminine plural: As-salāmu ʿalaykunna (عَلَيْكُنَّ)
A third-person variant, ʿalayhi as-salām "peace be upon him", is used in reference to prophets.
Definite as-salām (السلام) may be replaced by indefinite salāmun (سلامٌ). This form of the word is used in a passage of the Qur'an describing the greeting of the Angels towards the inhabitants of Paradise:
- And angels shall enter unto them from every gate (saying) Salāmun ‘Alaykum (peace be upon you) for that you persevered in patience! Excellent indeed is the final home!’— (Ar-Ra'ad 13:23-24)
The form salāmun ʿalaykum is especially used in Turkey, where it is spelled selamün aleyküm.
The correct response depends on who is addressing the person. The same rules from above for singularity, duality and plurality apply: Wa ʿalayk(...) s-salām.
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It is also preferred to use the greeting when arriving and also when leaving. It was reported that Abu Hurayrah said “When one of you joins a gathering, let him say salaam. When he wants to get up and leave, let him say salaam. The former is not more important than the latter.” (Hasan hadith reported in Jāmi` al-Tirmidhi)
- "The one who is riding should greet the one who is walking and the one who is walking should greet the one who is sitting and the smaller group should greet the larger group." (Saheeh - Al-Bukhaari, 6234; Muslim, 2160)
- It is also stated that one should give the Salam greeting upon entering a house. This is based upon the verse of the Qur'an:
- "But when you enter the houses, greet one another with a greeting from Allah (i.e. say: Assalaamu ‘Aleykum — peace be on you), blessed and good." (Al-Noor 24:61)
- Shortening the greeting to acronyms, such as A.S., As'kum (in Malaysia), or AsA is becoming common amongst Internet users in chat rooms and by people using SMS. This trend is similar to writing (S) or 'SAWS' in place of 'Sallallaahu `Aleyhi wa Sallam'.
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Extended, more explicitly religious replies include "Wa alaykumu s-salam wa rahmatullah" (May the peace and mercy of Allah be with you too) and "Wa alaykumu s-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh" (May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too).
The better greeting and reply are illustrated in the following Hadith concerning the companions of Muhammad, Umar, and Abu Bakr, riding together on one mount. When they passed by people, Abu Bakr greeted them saying: "Assalamu alaikum" and they replied: "Wa alaikum ussalam wa rahmatu Allah." Or he may greet them saying: "Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatu Allah," for which their reply was: "Wa alaikum ussalam wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuh." Abu Bakr commented: "Today, people have gained much more than us." (Sahih al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
Each time Abu Bakr offered a greeting, its reply was the same with an addition. The first one was the short form of the greeting of peace. The reply stated: "Wa alaikum ussalam wa rahmatu Allah," meaning "And to you be peace together with Allah's mercy." Thus, the reply adds a prayer that the person who offered the greeting should be blessed with Allah's mercy, both in this life, and in the life to come.
When the person who starts the greeting includes in it this same prayer for mercy to the one being accosted, the latter replies with yet another addition, "wa barakatuh," which adds a wish for Allah's blessing to the one who took advantage and offered us a friendly greeting. Abu Bakr's comment at the end of the Hadith shows that he was pleased with the fact that people always replied to his greeting with a better one.
Usage by non-Arabic speakers
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- In Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran, Salām is a simple greeting. This means Peace and Health, and is used similarly to "Peace be upon you" in English-speaking cultures.
- In Amharic, the term "Selam" is used in place of "Tadias" which is the equivalent of "What's up". The word "Selam" has the same meaning in Amharic as in Arabic which is "peace".
- In Turkey and Kazakhstan, many religious people use this statement and shake hands and it is the same for saying "goodbye"; more secular and non-religious people say "Selam" as an equivalent to "Hello" or "Hi". However, many Turks pronounce it differently as "Selamün aleyküm". The change is primarily because of the Turkish pronunciation of borrowed words from Arabic.
- In Pakistan, the greeting is also associated with shaking right hands and is also often accompanied with a hug when meeting infrequently (only between the same gender). In some places, people put a hand on their heart as they shake your hand and greet. Also, the full greeting of 'As-salam-o-alaikum' is preferred versus the shorter greeting of 'Salam'.
- In India, the greeting is accompanied by raising the right hand to the chest (arz hai "regards"; adaab "respect") or a simple handshake or hug, the shorter greeting "Salam" is used in informal situations. Goodbye is supplanted by a "Khuda hafiz" (secular/less formal or to an acquaintance) or "Allah hafiz" (less secular/generally to strangers, formal), both of which mean "May God keep you safe".
- In Bangladesh, Salām Aleykum is a simple greeting. This means "Peace be upon you" in English-speaking cultures.
- In Indonesia, the greeting is usually accompanied with a kind of two-handed "handshake", whereby the shaker's palms remain closed, and the fingers alone open to admit the other's proffered hand - which briefly touches the proffered's fingers or fingertips alone. In this way more adherent males and females may greet though touching - but remain true to the Islamic or cultural teachings forbidding physical contact between the genders. Occasionally, the right hand will touch the left breast or heart area after this. In Indonesia's Javanese/Sasak culture, a remnant of feudalism is retained, where an elder's proffered right hand is taken and pressed briefly against the forehead. Some may instead briefly kiss the hand or the main ring. This is very common for young children to greet older relatives (of their parents' age, though, on occasion, if very polite children, younger).
Usage by non-Muslims
There is considerable debate in Islam regarding how a Muslim is to respond when greeted by a non-Muslim with "Salaam Alaykum" or "as-Salaam Alaykum". At least one opinion distinguishes between whether or not the greeter is one of the People of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians. In this view, an appropriate response is simply "wa-Alaykum" ("and upon you").
- ""As-Salaamu-Alaikum" and "Wa-Alaikum-as-Salaam"". Ccnmtl.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2013-07-27.
- Sheikh Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid. "Is it mustahabb for one who gets up to leave a gathering to say salaam to those who are still sitting?". Islamqa.info.
- "As Salaamu Alaikom?". Archived from the original on 2010-11-20.
- "Surat An-Nur [24:61] - The Noble Qur'an - القرآن الكريم". Quran.com. Retrieved 2013-07-27.
- "Responding to a kaafir when he says salaam to a Muslim".
- Audio clip for Salam
- A brief illustrated guide to understanding Islam
- LivingHalal.com Islamic audio project