How do we respond to greetings from Non-Muslims, and can we congratulate them on their festivals?

Greetings of Salam

As Muslims we naturally want to propagate the beauty of our religion, and one of the beauties is the greetings of Peace (Salam). It has now become habit among certain circles to send their salams to their non-muslim friends, or perhaps begin emails with “Salam Alaykum” regardless of recipient. However, is this greetings allowed to be said to Non-Muslims?

Hadiths

The first time this fiqh issue seemed to have arise was from the following story:

“Once, a Jewish person went in the presence of the Messenger of Allah while ‘A’ishah was with him. The Jewish person said, ‘Sam ‘Alaykum instead of ‘Salamun ‘Alaykum.’ The Messenger of Allah said, ‘Alaykum.’ Then another Jewish person came and said the same thing as the one before and the Messenger of Allah responded just as before. Then a third Jewish person came. He also said what the other two had said before and the Messenger of Allah responded just as that to the other two before. ‘A’ishah became angry and said, ‘Alaykum al-Sam (wrath and condemnation) O Jewish group, brethren of monkeys and swine.’ The Messenger of Allah said to her, ‘O ‘A’ishah, if name-calling were to appear with a shape and form it would have a very evil shape. Wherever gentleness is placed it beautifies it and removing it is only to make it despised.’
“‘A’ishah then asked, ‘O the Messenger of Allah, did you not hear their words: ‘al-Sam ‘Alaykum?’ The Messenger of Allah said, ‘I heard them but did you not note what I said? I said, ‘‘Alaykum’. Whenever a Muslim offers you the greeting of peace say, ‘Salamun ‘Alaykum,’ but when a non-Muslim says something in their manners, just say, ‘Álaykum’, meaning the same to you.’”

Sanad: Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from ibn abu ‘Umayr from ibn ‘Udhaynah from Zurara from abu Ja’far (as) who has said the above hadith

Source: Usool Al-Kafi, Volume 2, Chapter 292, Hadith #1 (See First Image below)

Grading:
– Bahboodi says Sahih (صحيح)
– Allaamah Majlisi says Hasan/Good (حسن) [Mira’at Al-Uqool, Volume 12, Page 545, Hadith #1 (See Second Image below)]

Then we have shorter and clearer hadiths suggesting the same:

“Amir al-Mu’minin, Ali ibn abu Talib (as) has said, ‘Do not initiate the offering of the greeting of peace to people of the Book, but if they offered just say, “wa ‘Alaykum”’

Sanad: Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from Muhammad ibn Yahya from Ghiyath ibn Ibrahim from abu ‘Abd Allah (as) who has said the above hadith

Source: Usool Al-Kafi, Volume 2, Chapter 292, Hadith #2 (See First Image below)

Grading:
– Bahboodi says Sahih (صحيح)
– Allaamah Majlisi says Muwathaq/Reliable (موثق) [Mira’at Al-Uqool, Volume 12, Page 546, Hadith #2 (See Second Image below)]

salam chapter

Source – Usool Al-Kafi

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Gradings – Mira’at Al-Uqool

Skipping a few hadiths from the Chapter, there is another that seems to suggest it is okay to offer the greetings of peace:

“Once I asked abu al-Hassan Musa (as) ‘If I needed to visit a Christian physician, can I offer him the greeting of peace and pray for him?’ The Imam said, ‘Yes, but your prayer (of peace) will not benefit him.’”

Sanad: Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa from ibn Mahbub from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Hajjaj who has said the above hadith

Source: Usool Al-Kafi, Volume 2, Chapter 292, Hadith #8 (See First Image below)

Grading:
– Bahboodi says Sahih (صحيح)
– Allaamah Majlisi says Sahih (صحيح) [Mira’at Al-Uqool, Volume 12, Page 548, Hadith #8 (See Second Image below)]

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Fatwas

To get a clearer idea of whether it is permissible and what is preferable, we look at what the scholars say, here is the opinion of Sayed Ali Sistani (hf)

Question: What is the ruling on saying assalaamu [alaikum] (Islamic salutation, meaning peace be with you) to the People of the Book or unbelievers? […]

Answer: There is no harm in initiating the salutation, albeit makrooh (undesirable act) except out of necessity, under whose remit comes urf. Responding to their salutation should be by uttering [the word] alaik (with you). […]

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01179/

Note: ʿUrf (العرف) is an Arabic Islamic term referring to the custom, or ‘knowledge’, of a given society. To be recognized in an Islamic society, ʿurf must be compatible with the Sharia law. When applied, it can lead to the deprecation or inoperability of a certain aspect of fiqh فقه (Islamic jurisprudence).

Conclusion

It is best to refrain from sending salams to Non-Muslims, and if they initiate, reply with ‘Alayk’. For other maraja’ opinions please consult with them.

Merry Christmas?

I have not seen any explicit hadiths concerning sending greetings or gifts to non-Muslims on their special occasions. The only ones i have come across is the day of Nawruz (celebrated by the Majoos), which is complicated and complex given the narrated Islamic significance of that day.

However, Sayed Sistani (hf) has covered this issue:

Question: Is it permissible to exchange greetings and gifts with a non-Muslim, if he is a neighbour or a co-worker, etc.?

Answer: If he does not express hatred towards Islam and Muslims in words or actions, there is no problem in doing what is required in friendship like being good and charitable towards him. Almighty Allãh has said, “Allãh does not forbid you in regard to those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely Allãh loves the doers of justice.” [60:8]

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/book/46/2057/

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It is permissible to greet Ahlul Kitãb (the Jews and the Christians, etc) and also the non-Ahlul Kitãb on the occasions they celebrate like the New Year, Christmas, Easter, and the Passover.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/book/46/2056/

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Question: [..] is it permissible to send them seasonal greetings, such as on Christmas?
Answer: [..] There is no harm in greeting them on their occasions.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01179/

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However, when emailed about this, the response was far more cautious, both

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Conclusion

Trying to reconcile all the fatwas, it seems that although the seasonal greetings in itself is not problematic. However, if it is somehow helping confirm the Christian faith, or promote it in anyway, it is NOT permissible to send seasonal greatings. It is up to the Mukallif (the one who does taqlid) to decide if it falls under this category.

Personal Statement: I would just like to say: if we remember and “celebrate” events like Christmas, while forgetting (or giving less priority to) days like the birth of Imam Kadhum (as) or Eid Al-Ghadeer, or Eid (Farhat) Al-Zahra (as) etc., then we really need to reconsider our priorities.

May Allah Guide us All.