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Why Muslims Should Take Pride in Islamic Greetings

Why Muslims Should Take Pride in Islamic Greetings

In a June 1999 interview, British writer and Nobel laureate Doris Lessing (1919–2013) reminisces about a Shanghai visit during which she had this experience:

One evening I heard a Chinese family singing “Happy Birthday.” It was weird. You would have thought that they would have their own happy birthday song. Every dominant society in the world – whether it’s French or British or American –imposes its culture on less developed societies.[1]

Lessing does not like the idea that Chinese people borrow the western Happy Birthday song to commemorate birth anniversaries. She expects them to have their own songs for such occasions.

Every culture has its distinctive way of celebrating special days, and Lessing believes that people should preserve and revive their cultural expressions for special purposes. Based on this observation, in what follows, I comment on modes of greetings in vogue among people, especially Muslims in different societies in today’s world.

Every community has various types of interpersonal and social communication such as jokes, greetings and other exchanges between friends, acquaintances, family members and other people in society.

All racial groups have their unique modes of greeting, which, if preserved, can conceivably augment the beauty of diversity. This is one way how the racial mosaic all across the contemporary world can potentially enrich its multicultural practices.

However, western expressions seem to dominate and supersede indigenous, religious words of greeting. It is true that the globalized English language has given us common vocabularies and phrases of greeting.

So, when interacting with people of other religions or no religions, western expressions may bridge the gaps.

However, in the case of intra-racial or intra-religious communications, there should be a strong sense of identity and cultural affiliation. Hence, it may be advisable for people to use indigenous expressions when greeting members of their own religious or cultural community.

The preponderance of English and some other European languages and the global reach of western culture should not be allowed to undermine local articulations and expressions of greeting.

The dominance of western idioms of greeting especially at university campuses in many countries is quite palpable. The ubiquity of western greetings is a manifestation of a much wider project of colonial modernity and cultural imperialism.

People of former colonies exhibit a wide variety of influences and behaviors in their lifestyle patterns, attitudes and routine activities. In such a cultural context, creating platforms of self-assertion and resistance by way of spreading Islamic greetings is important, especially for Muslims.

Muslims have a wonderful expression of greeting and parting. However, it is sadly observed that many Muslims have apparently abandoned it. They often use ‘hi’, ‘bye’, ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, ‘good evening’ and ‘good night’, depending on the mode and time of familial or social encounters.

While western expressions are, perhaps, useful when greeting people of other cultural and religious backgrounds, Muslims are religiously obligated to use salam (peace) when greeting other Muslims.

According to Abdullah ibn Salam (may Allah be pleased with him), a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the first advice the latter gave to his followers upon his arrival in Madinah from Makkah reads:

O people, give food, spread salam (greeting of peace), maintain your kin relationships, and pray at night while others are asleep. With this, you shall enter Heaven in peace” (Al-Bukhari).[2]

Moreover, it should also be remembered that salam is also one of the names of God. So the Islamic greeting of salam has added significance and is perhaps much more meaningful than any other expressions of social niceties.

Besides theological discussions, greeting with Assalamualaikum is priceless, given the fact that it has a wonderful meaning: peace be with you. Such a wish and expression of greeting is incomparable.

An imitative tendency is primarily the reason why many use western expressions in preference to the Islamic salam. This shows how the culture of mimicry can subtly remain regnant, even in a supposedly Muslim setting.

The secularly-oriented people in Muslim societies perhaps have an added reason to shunsalam. They tend to maintain a safe distance from religious teachings and rituals and a direct departure from religious traditions. However, ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ is quite prevalent among secular people and here lies a problem, which I explain below.

The use of ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ is obviously an attempt on their part to maintain their secular outlook and religion-neutral character. But the fact of the matter is that, ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ is not a secular or religion-neutral term. ‘Goodbye’ stands for the old Anglo-Saxon saying ‘God be with you’ and is further shortened to ‘bye’.

So people who relinquish the Islamic salam and choose ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’ do not necessarily become religion-neutral, rather it reveals their ignorance of these terms, or prejudice against Islam.

In other words, such people apparently avoid the Islamic way of greeting only to adopt the Christian ones.

Perhaps, advocates of secularism in Muslim societies either do not know the origin of the expression ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’, or their skepticism and hostility is mainly against Islam, hence they switch from the Islamicsalam to the Christian greetings.

I do not think this secularist tendency applies to the vast majority of Muslims who refrain from saying salam, and use ritualistic western/Christian expressions for greetings and partings.

The primary reason for their use of western expressions is ignorance and an imitative tendency that is part of a trend which postcolonial theorists regard as Eurocentricism or cultural mimicry.

Muslims cannot subscribe to secularism or mimicry and should use Assaalmualaikum in preference to alien expressions when greeting and parting from each other. This is to show that they take pride in their cultural roots and religious identity.


[1] Jonah Raskin, “THE PROGRESSIVE INTERVIEW: Doris Lessing,” retrieved on July 6, 2013 from <http://www.dorislessing.org/theprogressive.html>.

[2] Quoted in Dr. Hazem Said and Maha Ezzeddine, “The Prophetic Peace Formula: Feed, Greet and Pray,” OnIslam.net, 5 October 2014. Retrieved on Jun. 7, 2015 from <http://www.onislam.net/english/shariah/hadith/this-hadith/459179-feed-greet-and-pray.html>


About Dr. Md. Mahmudul Hasan

Dr. Md. Mahmudul Hasan is with the Department of English Language and Literature at International Islamic University Malaysia. You can reach him at mmhasan@iium.edu.my

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