Can Muslims greet non-Muslims with peace?

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

It is permissible to initiate the greeting of peace with non-Muslim citizens if this serves a beneficial purpose such as maintaining good relations with them and displaying a good example of Islamic behavior. This is based upon the Prophet’s general command to spread peace and it is the opinion of some of his prominent companions.

Abdullah ibn Umar reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “Which Islam is best?” The Prophet said:

تُطْعِمُ الطَّعَامَ وَتَقْرَأُ السَّلاَمَ عَلَى مَنْ عَرَفْتَ وَمَنْ لَمْ تَعْرِفْ

To feed the hungry and to greet with peace those you know and those you do not know.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 28, Grade: Sahih

And Ammar ibn Yasir, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

ثَلَاثٌ مَنْ جَمَعَهُنَّ فَقَدْ جَمَعَ الْإِيمَانَ الْإِنْصَافُ مِنْ نَفْسِكَ وَبَذْلُ السَّلَامِ لِلْعَالَمِ وَالْإِنْفَاقُ مِنْ الْإِقْتَارِ

Whoever has three qualities will have completed the faith: fairness from yourself to others, offering peace to the world, and spending in charity even while poor.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 28, Grade: Sahih

And Abu Umamah reported:

قَالَ أَمَرَنَا نَبِيُّنَا صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَنْ نُفْشِيَ السَّلَامَ

Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, commanded us to spread peace.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 3693, Grade: Hasan

The statements “to greet with peace those you know and do not know” and “to offer peace to the world” and “the Prophet commanded us to spread peace” indicate that greeting others with peace is the general rule, whether Muslims or non-Muslims. In fact, this is how these commands were understood and applied by Abu Umamah al-Bahilil.

‘Urwah ibn Ruwaym reported: I saw Abu Umamah al-Bahili greet with peace whomever he would meet among the Muslims and non-Muslim citizens (dhimmi) and he would say:

هِيَ تَحِيَّةٌ لِأَهْلِ مِلَّتِنَا وَأَمَانٌ لِأَهْلِ ذِمَّتِنَا وَاسْمٌ مِنْ أَسْمَاءِ اللَّهِ نُفْشِيهِ بَيْنَنَا

This is the greeting for the people of our religion, an assurance of security for the people of our covenant, and the name of Allah that we spread between us.

Source: al-Tamhīd 17/91

This was the opinion and practice of other prominent companions and scholars as well.

Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

نُسَلِّمُ عَلَى مَنْ لَقِيَنَا

We greet with peace whomever we meet.

Source: al-Muwaṭṭa’ 1793, Grade: Sahih

And Ibn Abdul Barr reported:

وَرُوِيَ عَنِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ وَأَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ وَفَضَالَةَ بْنِ عُبَيْدٍ أَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يَبْدَءُونَ أَهْلَ الذِّمَّةِ بِالسَّلَامِ وَعَنِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ أَنَّهُ كَتَبَ إِلَى رَجُلٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكَ

It is narrated from Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Darda, and Fadalah ibn ‘Ubayd that they would initiate the greeting of peace with non-Muslim citizens. Ibn Mas’ud once wrote to a man among the people of the Book and he said: Peace be upon you.

Source: al-Tamhīd 17/91

Muhammad ibn Ka’b said:

أَمَّا أَنَا فَلَا أَرَى بَأْسًا أَنْ نَبْدَأَهُمْ بِالسَّلَامِ

As for me, I do not see any harm in greeting them with peace first.

He was asked, “Why is that?” Ibn Ka’b said:

لِقَوْلِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فَاصْفَحْ عَنْهُمْ وَقُلْ سَلَامٌ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ

Allah Almighty said: Pardon them and say words of peace, for they will soon know. (43:89)

Source: al-Tamhīd 17/92

It was said to Sufyan bin Uyaynah, “Do you give permission to greet an unbeliever with peace?” Sufyan said:

نَعَمْ قَالَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ

Yes, for Allah Almighty said: Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you in religion nor expel you from your homes that you be righteous and generous to them. Verily, Allah loves those who are generous. (60:8)

Sufyan added:

وَقَالَ قَدْ كَانَتْ لَكُمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْآيَةَ وَقَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ لِأَبِيهِ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكَ

Allah said: There has come to you the best example in Abraham, (60:4) and Abraham said to his father: Peace be upon you. (19:47)

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 19:41

And Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

وَقَالَتْ طَائِفَةٌ يَجُوزُ الِابْتِدَاءُ لِمَصْلَحَةٍ رَاجِحَةٍ مِنْ حَاجَةٍ تَكُونُ لَهُ إِلَيْهِ أَوْ خَوْفٍ مِنْ أَذَاهُ أَوْ لِقَرَابَةٍ بَيْنَهُمَا أَوْ لِسَبَبٍ يَقْتَضِي ذَلِكَ يُرْوَى ذَلِكَ عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ النَّخَعِيِّ وعلقمة

A group of scholars said it is permissible to initiate the greeting of peace with non-Muslims if it serves a beneficial purpose or need, or if he fears he will be harmed by them, or if he has family relations with them, or for another reason for which it is required. This was narrated by Ibrahim al-Nakhi’ and ‘Alqamah.

Source: Zād al-Ma’ād 2/388

And Ibn Hajar writes:

وَقَالَتْ طَائِفَةٌ يَجُوزُ ابْتِدَاؤُهُمْ بِالسَّلَامِ

A group of scholars said it is permissible to initiate the greeting of peace with non-Muslims.

Source: Fatḥ al-Bārī 11/40

A “beneficial purpose” would include providing an assurance of security to non-Muslim citizens, maintaining good relations with them, being a good example of Islamic behavior for them, and teaching them about Allah’s beautiful name, As-Salaam.

Some scholars prohibited initiating the greeting of peace with non-Muslims based upon the statement of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him:

لَا تَبْدَءُوا الْيَهُودَ وَلَا النَّصَارَى بِالسَّلَامِ

Do not initiate the greeting of peace with the Jews and Christians.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2167, Grade: Sahih

These scholars understood this to be a general rule. However, in our view, the stronger opinion is that the narrations commanding us to spread peace are the general rule, and this narration is specific to the incident in which there were declared hostilities between some Jewish tribes, their allies, and the Muslims.

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

لَكِنْ قَدْ قِيلَ إِنَّ هَذَا كَانَ فِي قَضِيَّةٍ خَاصَّةٍ لَمَّا سَارُوا إِلَى بَنِي قُرَيْظَةَ

It is said that this was in a specific situation, when they were marching to Banu Qurayzah

Source: Zād al-Ma’ād 2/388

Other versions of this tradition demonstrate that the Prophet said this during the campaign against Banu Qurayzah, a Jewish tribe who had betrayed the Muslims and aided their enemies in a war of extermination.

Abu Basrah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّا غَادُونَ عَلَى يَهُودَ فَلَا تَبْدَءُوهُمْ بِالسَّلَامِ فَإِذَا سَلَّمُوا عَلَيْكُمْ فَقُولُوا وَعَلَيْكُمْ

Verily, I will depart against the Jews in the morning, so do not greet them with peace and if they greet you with peace, then say: And upon you.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 26695

This narration is authentic according to Al-Haythami in Majma’ al-Zawāʼid 8/44 and Al-Albani in Irwā’ al-Ghalīl 1275.

Abu Abdur Rahman al-Juhani reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنِّي رَاكِبٌ غَدًا إِلَى الْيَهُودِ فَلَا تَبْدَءُوهُمْ بِالسَّلَامِ فَإِذَا سَلَّمُوا عَلَيْكُمْ فَقُولُوا وَعَلَيْكُمْ

Verily, I am riding against the Jews tomorrow, so do not greet them with peace and if they greet you with peace, then say: And upon you.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 3699

This narration is authentic according to Al-Albani in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmi’ 2464 and Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Mājah 2999.

From these narrations and others, we can understand that the prohibition of greeting the Jews and Christians with peace was specific to those tribes who had declared their hostility to the Muslims. If the non-Muslims are fellow citizens in a state of peace with Muslims, then there is no harm in initiating the greeting of peace with them and this prohibition does not apply to them. The prohibition only applies specifically to those groups who are openly hostile to the Muslims.

Regarding responding to the greeting of peace, all Muslim scholars agree that if a Muslim is greeted with peace by anyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, then it is an obligation for him to respond with the greeting of peace.

Allah said:

وَإِذَا حُيِّيتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا

When you are greeted with a greeting, then greet in return with something better or at least return it. Verily, Allah is an accountant over all things.

Surat al-Nisa 4:86

And Allah said:

إِذْ دَخَلُوا عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا سَلَامًا ۖ قَالَ سَلَامٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ

When they entered upon Abraham and said, “We greet you with peace.” He answered, “I greet you with peace, a people unknown.”

Surat al-Dhariyat 51:25

Ibn Kathir reported: Hasan al-Basri, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

 السَّلَامُ تَطَوُّعٌ وَالرَّدُّ فَرِيضَةٌ

Greeting with peace is voluntary, but responding to it is mandatory.

Ibn Kathir then writes:

وَهَذَا الَّذِي قَالَهُ هُوَ قَوْلُ الْعُلَمَاءِ قَاطِبَةً أَنَّ الرَّدَّ وَاجِبٌ عَلَى مَنْ سُلِّمَ عَلَيْهِ فَيَأْثَمُ إِنْ لَمْ يَفْعَلْ لِأَنَّهُ خَالَفَ أَمْرَ اللَّهِ فِي قَوْلِهِ فَحَيُّوا بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا

This statement is the unanimous opinion of the scholars, that responding to the greeting of peace is an obligation for whoever is greeted with peace. It is a sin not to do so, because that contradicts the command of Allah when He said: So greet them with something better or at least return it. (4:86)

Source: Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr 4:86

Therefore, a Muslim who is greeted with peace by a non-Muslim must respond to his invitation for peace, otherwise he is sinful.

There is no harm in greeting non-Muslims with peace first if they are fellow citizens at peace with Muslims. The prohibition of initiating the greeting of peace with non-Muslims applied only to those tribes who were openly hostile to the Muslim community.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.