Mufti Taqi Usmani
Greeting brother Muslims is one of these Islamic practices which are the hallmark of a Muslim and its merits have been anointed in many ahadith. e.g.
“One who is first in greeting others is closer to Allah”. (Abu Daud )
It is not necessary to greet only those with whom one is acquainted; greeting strangers who are known to be Muslims is a matter of great merit.
Our holy Prophet صَلَّى ٱللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ, was asked as to which actions are good for Muslims. Among the actions which our holy Prophet صَلَّى ٱللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ, enumerated was this:
“You should greet people whether you know them or not” (Sahih Bukhari. Sahih Muslim)
It is reported about Abdullah bin Omar that sometimes he went out of the house only to greet any Muslims he met and thus to increase his merit. (Muwatta Imam Malik)
The correct interpretation of this hadith, however, is that one should greet others, though not everyone one sees because it is impossible and it might also be embarrassing for others. (AI Adab al Shariah, li ibn Muslih page 422, volume 1)
It is also a sunnah to greet the family when entering the house. Our holy Prophet instructed his personal servant Anas as follow:
“0 son! When you enter (your) house, greet your family member; this act shall be of benefit for both you and your family members” (Tirmidhi)
Even when entering an empty house one should greet with the intent that angels are being greeted. Abdullah ibn Omar used to say :
السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْنَا وَعَلَى عِبَادِ اللهِ الصَّالِحِينَ
‘Peace be upon the righteous slaves of Allah.’ (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 1055)
Hadith also urges the muslims to clearly speak out the greeting so that it may be heard and understood. Although the sunnah of greeting to fulfilled by saying “Al Salam Alaikum “. but adding “wa Rahmat ulla-wa barakatuhu” earns more merit.
Imran bin Husayn recounts that once he and others were in the presence of our exalted and eternally blessed Prophet when a man came and said:
to which the blessed Prophet صَلَّى ٱللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ responded and said “Ten” (i.e. the person who had greeted him, had earned ten merits); then another man came and he said
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله
to which the blessed Prophet صَلَّى ٱللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ responded and said ‘Twenty’ (i.e. the man had earned twenty merits); finally a third man came and said :
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
to which the exalted Prophet responded and said Thirty” (i.e. he had earned thirty merits) (Abu Daud, Tiimidhi, Jami al Usul p.602. vol. 6),
It should be noted here, however, that salam i.e. greeting is a sunnah only when the person greeted is not busy or when salam would not disturb him; if salam is going to disturb him in whatever he is doing, e.g. reciting Qur’an or doing dhikr or tending the sick or studying or doing something else in which loss of concentration would cause loss, the one should wait till the work is finished.
Similarly it is not right to salaam when somebody is making a speech, and speaker too should not do it.
However if a group is sitting quietly and somebody passes by then he should greet them; if someone wishes to join them then just one salaam is enough and a single response from one in the group fulfills the sunnah.
To be the first with salam is sunnah and he who does not reply to it is a sinner.
When a letter is received in which السلام عليكم it should be responded to in the prescribed manner while reading the letter.