I love Islam and I love being a Muslim. I took my shahdah at a small masjid on Cranston Street in Providence, RI on April 29, 1998 and I remember thinking that Sister Naima, a middle-aged woman in a light pink hijab scarf, was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen. I admired her poise and gentle demeanor and eagerly looked forward to the day when I could speak as knowledgeably about Islam as she did. She took me aside after my declaration to tell me about the required daily prayers and what would be expected of me as a Muslim and I will always cherish her kindness. The first few years of practicing Islam were the most exhilarating of my life thus far. I read the Qur’an in its entirety in a matter of days and absorbed as much information as I could about the tenets of Islam. Everything about the religion was beautiful and inspiring to me; from the penetrating words of the Holy Qur’an and Arabic calligraphy to the exotic aromas of incense, colorful pashmina scarfs and tasbih beads.
I was so inspired and invigorated by all that I had read and seen in lectures about Islam that I was not prepared for the shock and hurt that I experienced the first time that I offered the greeting of peace to an obviously Muslim woman and was not greeted with peace in return. I must admit that I still do not fully understand why I have on separate occasions been ceremoniously ignored, stared at balefully and been offered hesitant, half-smiles without a return of the greeting of peace. The first time it occurred could have been excused as fluke: maybe she did not hear me. But by the second and third times it was clear to me that for some reason or another, the women that I had encountered did not want to respond with salaams to me.
The Holy Qur’an says in Surah 4:86: “When a greeting is offered you, answer it with an even better greeting, or (at least) with its like. God keeps count of all things,” and so I am left to wonder why my fellow Muslim sisters did not feel inclined to greet me with salutations of peace. Did I say it wrong? Was it because of the way I was dressed? Was I too aggressive?
By the grace of Allah Ta’aala, I have not allowed these occurrences to hinder me in my practice of the deen or to alter my conviction in belief, but it seems to me that such behavior should not exist amongst believers. Believers are to be helpers one to another and not wishing peace upon another believer is certainly not a help, especially for reverts and converts to the religion. Often times reverts come to Islam and are faced with rejection from their families and friends who may find in difficult to accept our having turned to a religion that is often viewed as foreign and antagonistic to Christianity and the West. Submitting to Allah Ta’aala is paramount and well worth any hardship that may arise, but being rejected by fellow Muslims as we seek to learn the religion can be discouraging.
According to the Holy Qur’an, it is my duty to respond to the greeting of peace and I make it a point to always respond in kind when salaams are offered to me. I do not, however, make it a point to be the first to offer salaams for fear of being rejected or made to feel as though my salaams are not worthy of a response which is a sad and sorry state to be in, I admit, but is a practice that I have adopted as a way coping.
On the bright side, the number of instances where my salaams have not been returned is far out-weighed by the number of times when they have been. Most Muslim sisters appear happy to see another Muslimah out and are eager to respond with the greeting of peace. The atmosphere at the mosque tends to be more reserved, as it should be as a place of worship, but muslimahs can increasingly be met online where there seems to be more of a welcoming environment that is less judgmental and more conducive to growth and fellowship.
In addressing the issue of not imparting salaams to others, it is my intention to shed light on an area that can potentially harm converts to Islam. The Holy Qur’an has stated that Islam has been perfected as a religion and if we, as Muslims, seek to represent what it means to adhere to Islam, we must take responsibility for how we treat fellow believers. Converts are drawn to the call of Allah Ta’aala through Islam and although we may not know as much about the religion as Muslims who have had the blessing of being born into a family practicing Islam, the desire to practice Islam correctly and is strong. Unfortunate occasions of not being greeted with salaams can discourage a revert and may cause him or her to question if they have made the right decision. Each individual believer is responsible for his or her own choices in life, but if we as Muslims are truly to be helpers to one another, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, then we must admit that not greeting an individual with peace when they offer it to you in good faith cannot be seen as a help to that individual.
There is a beautiful and noble pattern of conduct in the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, and I end with one of his sayings as recorded in hadith Sahih Muslim number 96, as narrated by Abu Hurayrah:
The Messenger of Allah, (SAW) observed: You shall not enter paradise so long as you do not affirm belief (in all those things which are the articles of faith) and you will not believe as long as you do not love one another. Should I not direct you to a thing which, if you do, will foster love amongst you: (i.e.) give currency to (the practice of paying salutation to one another by saying) as-salamu alaykum.
Definitions of terms:
Shahadah: The shahadah is the Muslim declaration of belief in the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet. The declaration in its shortest form reads: Lā ʾilāha ʾillà l-Lāh, Muḥammadar rasūlu l-Lāh in Arabic and There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God in English.
Masjid: Arabic word for Mosque, the Islamic place of worship
Hijab: modesty as practiced in Islam by both men and women; also used to describe the covering that Muslim women wear to cover their head and bosom.
Tasbih beads: Tasbih is a form of remembrance that involves the repetitive utterances of short sentences glorifying God which can be counted on a string of beads similar to a rosary in appearance
Allah Ta’aala: a shortened expression used to represent the phrase “May He be glorified and exalted” that follows the written name of God
Deen: an Arabic term meaning Way of Life
Muslimah: a Muslim woman
Sunnah: Sunnah denotes the behaviors and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that he taught and practiced during his lifetime
Sahih: Sahih is an Arabic word that means genuine, authentic, or sound that is used to classify the recorded sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as authentic
As-salamu alaykum: the greeting translated as may peace be upon you from Arabic that Muslims greet one another with