Salaam Alaikum

If you have ever been to a mosque, or even just been hanging out with a group of Muslim friends, as-salaam alaikum is an expression that will be heard time and time again. As-salaam alaikum is the standard greeting Muslims share with each other when meeting. This expression is Arabic for “Peace be upon you.” The common response back is a similar return greeting of peace, Wa alaikum assalaam (and upon you be peace). Even in this innocuous and harmless method of saying hello we find an interesting spiritual inversion. Sharing the peace might seem a place where Christianity and Islam look similar at first glance, but what might we find upon further investigation?

With a cursory look, a person would note that Jesus brought peace (John 16:33). Paul talks about the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So too a Muslim will tell you plainly that the word Islam, which means submission, comes from the same Arabic root word as peace, salam. It’s right about here where any conversation will get sidetracked with whether or not Islam is truly a religion of peace. While those conversations have value, for the purposes of this blog, this author will not go down such a detour. By keeping on topic, a much more subtle yet profound truth will come to light. So here we stand, both Christians and Muslims claiming that each religion is one of peace. Muslims are even quick to cite such passages as John 20:21 as evidence that Jesus was a Muslim, since he gave the traditional Islamic greeting of peace. [i]

To unravel this confusion, let’s look at greetings in the Bible in more depth. Paul has the greatest number of epistles, so there are myriad examples of greetings there. To get a flavor for these, examine 1 Corinthians 1:3, Romans 1:7, or Galatians 1:3. What pattern emerges? Or consider the greetings of Peter in 1 Peter 1:2 or 2 Peter 1:2, or again those of John in 2 John 3 or Revelation 1:4. Seventeen times in the Bible there are greetings of both grace and peace. However, in each circumstance, notice that the order is always the same. In each case, the grace comes before the peace. Not even once does peace come first before grace.

This raises the question of whether it is possible for peace to ever come before there is grace. In the book of Philippians, the context of the passage discussing the peace that passes all comprehension is that such peace comes after rejoicing, prayer, and offering thanks to God. We are only able to do these because of God’s grace to bring us to Himself in the first place. In John 16:33, the context is that peace will be given because Jesus has overcome the world, and He has just told His disciples plainly who He is, and therefore how He has the right to grant this peace. He grants it by the fact that He will return to the Father in order to be the instrument of grace to those who believe.

So again the question must be asked if there can even be peace without grace. There is surely no peace between God and any individual human until a person accepts the reconciliation that God offers via Jesus Christ. That peace between God and man comes only by grace alone and not by merit (Ephesians 2:8-9). For our relationship with God, peace comes as a result of God’s grace. Peace between individuals, groups, or nations can be achieved temporarily and to a limited extent. However, history shows us clearly that strife between nations has been a permanent fixture of our world. Personal experience shows us that maintaining peace with family members and friends is a constant battle. Indeed, maintaining that peace often requires showing the grace of forgiveness to those who have harmed us. Here too, oftentimes peace comes as a natural consequence of extending grace to those we encounter.

Yet what about the claims by Muslims that Jesus offered the traditional Muslim greeting of peace? Indeed, the Bible records four times when Jesus offers this greeting; Luke 24:36, John 20:19, John 20:21, and John 20:26. What commonality do all these verses share? In each case, this greeting comes after the resurrection! Jesus only gives this greeting after He has died on the cross and returned to the Father, healing the fractured relationship between God and man. The greeting of “peace” only occurs after Jesus has accomplished His mission of allowing us to receive God’s grace to its fullest measure. Once again, peace follows grace.

In this simple example, we again see a marked difference between Islam and Christianity. In Islam, peace is put first and foremost and yet is attempted without grace. In Christianity, peace comes only after grace, never before.

Perhaps as Christians we should say hello by saying “grace be unto you.” To be more serious, I would ask any native Arabic speakers to comment with the anglicized equivalent of “grace be unto you” in Arabic. What would a Muslim say if greeted this way?

[i] http://my.opera.com/islamicworld/blog/?id=28141622

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8 Responses to Salaam Alaikum

  1. Abu Daoud says:

    One of the questions I ask my Muslim friends from time to time is, what does the word ‘grace’ mean to you? You get interesting responses actually. Overall I get the impression that when you say grace (ni3me) it is associated with correct functioning of the body and provision. Sight is a grace. Hearing is a grace. Taste is a grace. This view is, I think, not that far removed from the Christian view of grace. It is not so much incorrect, as incomplete. But it does seem like a good starting point, no?

    You should also know that the complete response to salamu aleykum is “wa aaleykum a-salam w ra7mat allah wa baarakaatuhu” which means, “and upon you the peace and mercy of God and his blessings” which strikes me as the sort of thing Paul might well say, no?

    Anyway, these are great questions. I’ll greet a few Muslims with ‘na3mat allah 3aleyka’ and see what they say.

    • elmo says:

      That’s very far from the Christian grace.
      Christian grace is love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.
      Islam teaches to hate your enemies, terrorise your enemies and kill all who persecute you.
      It is very different.
      And the Muslim greeting is not in the new testament. Because it was written in Greek.
      :)

  2. Abu Daoud says:

    Went to a local hooka place and tried this out today. I asked the owner, what would you say if someone said ‘grace of God be with you’ instead of salamu aleykum, and he said, “That’s for religious people, why should I care?”

    But then was invited to sit down at a table with three other guys and they agreed that it was fine, because peace is an aspect of grace, and grace means something God gives you, though he has no obligation to give it to you, like good weather or a health.

    Not sure if that answers your question…

  3. admin says:

    How fascinating. If in the Islamic point of view peace is just an aspect of grace, why not greet each with the superseding and enveloping concept? Even still, the acknowledgement that grace is something that could come from God could be an interesting connection. Thanks so much for your comments.

  4. elmo says:

    How does that prove Jesus was a Muslim?
    Do only Muslims say, “peace be upon you? ”
    Lol Did a kid write this?
    Who ever wrote this is extremely ignorant and doesn’t know anything
    About history or anything else…

  5. elmo says:

    The peace greeting in the Bible is actually, “Shalom” Hebrew greeting ;)

  6. elmo says:

    The peace greetings in the Bible have nothing to do with Islam. For a start: It was not even spoken in Arabic.

  7. elmo says:

    I’m am ex Muslim and a Qur’an and bible solar.

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