It’s the Monday after one of the chillest three-day-weekends you’ve had so far, and you just got out of your last class for the day. Fall’s finally here, so the sun is shining and the temperature’s at the kind of number that means you don’t have to hide your fingers in your sleeves or give stankeye to the girls who complain about how hot they are to the girl in the cotton scarf wrapped firmly around her head. It’s actually pretty nice, and you don’t even have any homework due tonight, so, hey, you’re in a pretty good mood. Thinkin’ about calling up some friends and grabbing some froyo or shooting hoops for a little bit, ‘cause you’re still a little buzzed from that great weekend, you know?
Then you see it.
It’s unmistakable; coming from the distance, a girl with a scarf on her head or a guy with a Muslim Beard™ or just someone you vaguely recognize from MSA. You don’t know their name. You don’t even know if they know yours, or if they’ve ever seen you around, or anything, really, other than the fact that they’re Muslim, and so are you.
You start to sweat.
You fix yourself up; quickly tuck the baby hairs crawling onto your forehead back in your scarf, run a hand through your hair to straighten it out as you wonder if this person’ll return your gesture, or if you’ll be weird, or if they’ve got earbuds running up their shirt and into their ears and it’s just so extravagantly hidden that you can’t tell and you’ll look stupid.
You’re just about to pass each other.
Your eyes meet. The moment of truth.
You smile, raise your hand to wave, and proclaim, “Asalaamu alaykum!”
They don’t notice and you both walk on by.
Oh. Well. Awkward.
I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been on both ends of this exchange before. The nervous salaam that I’ve been prepping from, like, half a mile away; the unnatural fast walk to get away from it; and the hastily muttered, “Walaykum asalaam,” too. I mean, it’s hard, isn’t it? To wave and smile and greet people you don’t know, and you aren’t about to stop and talk about your day, right, and there’s a good chance you won’t see each other again, given how big Rutgers is, so… why bother?
Al-Bukhaari, Muslim, Ahmad, Abu Dawood, al-Nisaa’i, and Ibn Hibbaan narrated from ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar, that a man asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, “What is the best thing in Islam?” He said,
Feeding others and giving the greeting of salaam to those whom you know and those whom you do not know.
He ﷺ also said:
You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another: spread salaam among you.
Because the Prophet ﷺ told us to. Because it’s how we show love to each other. Because it’s part of our deen!
When I was younger, I used to play a game with my cousins where whenever an adult would pass us by we’d race to say our salaam, and whoever was first got ninety-nine points–everyone else only got one. It was a giggly scramble and it was all in good fun, but somewhere around high school it sank into the back of my mind and I started looking away instead of rushing to grab those ninety-nine points.
Younger me was onto something that I lost in high school, because spreading salaam isn’t just a suggestion. It’s a command. And one of the minor signs of the Day of Judgement is that we’ll stop saying it to strangers, that we’ll save it only for those we already know… But here’s a question: How do you meet new people? How do you make friends or start an interview or pick up the phone?
You say hello.
And what d’you suppose is the most beautiful version of ‘hello’? The one that’s guaranteed to foster brother- and sisterhood in the hearts of the Believers?
So I have a challenge for me and I have a challenge for you. Some of us are in the habit of spreading salaam and some of us aren’t; whoever you are, the next time you see a Muslim walking down the street and you’re not sure whether they’re going to greet you or whether you should greet them, take the initiative. Smile and say “Asalaamu alaykum,” even if you’re with friends and you’re in the middle of a good joke or something–because maybe your friends will turn around, blink, and ask, “Wait, do you know them?”
And you can say, “Nah.”
Or you can say, “Of course.”
Or you can say, “That’s my sister/brother. Duh.”