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The Messenger of Allah may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him prohibited that the people of the Book should be beginned by  greetings. Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger () as saying:

“Do not initiate the Jews and the Christians with the greetings and when you meet any one of them on the roads force him to go to the narrowest part of it.”

His saying: “Dot not initiate the Jews and the Christians with the greetings” it is because the greeting is for honor and respect and it is not allowed to honor them nor respect them, rather, it is befitting to desert them and not giving them attention as a way of belittlement to them and to show disdain towards their affairs.

In the light of the forgoing prophetic guidance, the people of knowledge differed about initiating the people of the Book with the greetings and responding to them. An-Nawawi said: “the scholars differed  in responding to the greetings of the kuffaar and initiating them with greetings and our school of thought is prohibition of initiating them with greetings and responding to them and that he should only say: “ wa alaikum or alaikum( on to you), and our proof in (not) initiating them is his saying(may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) “Do not initiate the Jews and the Christians with the greetings” and in (not) responding (to them) his saying(may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) “say(onto them) and to you”. This opinion which we mentioned about our school of thought is the opinion of majority of scholars and the general opinion of all the pious predecessors.

A group of scholars however saw the permissibility of we initiating them with the greetings and that was reported of Ibn Abbas, he said: “Whoever greeted you from the creation of Allah then return it back even if he was a Magian”.  The people of this opinion cited as their the general meaning of the verse( chapter of An-Nisaa/ 4: 86) and general meaning of the hadiths that teaches the spread of the greetings. This however is wrong because it is a proof whose meaning is general and was limited by the hadith says: “Dot not initiate the Jews and the Christians with the greetings”. As for the verse, Ataa said about it : “it is specifically for Muslims and the disbeliever’s is no way to be responded to”

His saying : and when you meet any one of them on the roads force him to go to the narrowest part of it” An-Nawawi said: “a zimmi(non-Muslim under the protection of Islamic state) should not be given a middle part of the road, rather, should be forced to the narrowest part of it if there are Muslims threading on it, however, if there is no crowd on the road there is no blame on that”. They also said: ‘forcing them to the narrowest part of the road should be in such a manner that they will not be hit by rocks or walls and others, and Allah knows best.

But at the same time, if the need necessitates that we offer greetings to the people of the Book, is it allowed to offer them greetings?

The Answer: the previous hadith obviously shows that it is prohibited, however, if the needs demands so, then the greetings should be other than greetings with the salaam such as: good morning or good evening and the likes. Ibn Muflih said: “sheikh Taqiyuddeen mentioned that: “if he greets him with a word that comforts him other saying salaam there is no problem with that.

An-Nawawi said: Abu Sa’ad Al-Mutawalli said: “if he intends to greet a zimmi(non-Muslim living in Islamic state) he should do so with other than salaam such as saying: “ may Allah guide you” or may Allah bless your morning” I said:(An-Nawawi) there is no problem with what Abu Sa’ad said if the need demands so, however, if there is no need for that, then the preferred opinion is that he should not say anything because saying such words makes them feel comfortable and that also shows we love them whiles we are ordered to be stern towards them and prohibited from loving them, hence, we should not show it(love). And Allah knows best.

 

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