There are different views on greeting unbelievers. Some consider it accepted to start by offering the greeting as a way to win their goodwill. Others only allow Muslims to reply the greeting and not to start it.
•Offering a greeting to a non-Muslim;
•Saying the greeting of peace to an unbeliever.
A Muslim living in a non-Muslim country meets a non-Muslim and starts by greeting him, whether this takes place in the street, at school, the workplace or anywhere else.
Scholars have two different views on this question.
The first view makes clear that it is not permissible for a Muslim meeting an unbeliever to start by offering the greeting of peace. If the unbeliever starts by saying assalamu alalikum (i.e. ‘peace be to you’), the Muslim may reply by saying wa alaikum (i.e. ‘and to you’). He may also give the reply in full, wa alaikum assalam, (i.e. ‘and peace be to you too’), if he is certain that when the unbeliever says the greeting he is clearly meaning it. This is the view of the majority of scholars, including Ibn al-Qayyim. Among contemporary scholars who subscribe to this view are Shaikh Abd al-Azeez ibn Baz and Shaikh Salih al-Fawzan.
The Prophet says:
‘Do not start by offering the Jews or the Christians the greeting of peace.’
(Related by Muslim, hadith No. 2,167)
He also says:
‘If the people of earlier revelations greet you, say: “And to you.”’
(Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 6,258; Muslim, hadith No. 2,163)
This applies even more to other unbelievers.
The Islamic greeting of peace suggests heartfelt tenderness and a Muslim is not allowed to love unbelievers because God does not love unbelievers and He has prohibited believers to love them. He says:
‘Believers! Do not take My enemies, who are your enemies as well, for your friends, showing them affection when they have rejected the truth you have received.’
However it is permissible to return their greetings, as this is the import of the Qur’anic verse:
‘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.’
It is reported that the Prophet stopped replying to the Jews because they used to twist their words and say assamu alaikum, omitting the syllable la, changing the meaning of the word to ‘death be to you’ instead of ‘peace be to you.’ He said: ‘When people of earlier revelations greet you, some of them say assamu alaikum. Therefore, reply by saying wa alaikum.’
The second view considers that it is permissible to greet unbelievers first if this is to win their goodwill. This view is stated by Shaikh Muhammad ibn Uthaimeen and Shaikh Abdullah ibn Jibreen. The latter states: ‘What is not permissible is to start by offering the greeting of peace to those who are persistent in disbelief and who are unlikely to be inclined to Islam. A Muslim may not begin by greeting them or stand up when he sees them coming or give them a place of honour in a gathering. As for those who are more inclined towards Islam, this is perhaps permissible as needed.’
The texts that prohibit offering the greeting to Jews and Christians are understood to refer to those of them who are persistent in disbelief and entertain no goodwill towards Islam. It is not permissible for Muslims to be the first to greet them.
•Ibn Taymiyyah, Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim.
•Abd al-Azeez ibn Baz,, Majmu' al-Fatawa.
•Salih al-Fawzan, Al-Muntaqa.
•Abdullah ibn Jibreen, Al-Mufid fi Taqrib Ahkam al-Musafir.
•Fatawa al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah by a number of scholars.
•Mut’ib al-Qahtani (ed.), Is'af al-Mughtaribin bi Fatawa al-'Ulama’ al-Rabbaniyyin.
• Khalid Abd al-Qadir, Fiqh al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah.
- Ibn Taymiyyah, Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, vol. 1, pp. 192–200; Ibn Baz, Aajmu' al-Fatawa, vol. 5, p. 406; al-Fawzan, Al-Muntaqa, vol. 1, p. 267.
- Fatawa al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah, by a group of scholars, pp. 46 and 48.