There exists some debate regarding how should a Muslim respond to salaam from a non-Muslim. Islam is a religion that places value on promoting peace and harmony. One way in which Muslims demonstrate this is through the greeting of “As-salaam alaykum,” which translates to “peace be upon you.”
Here are a few essential considerations regarding how to respond to salaam from a non-Muslim:
Initiating the Greeting of Salaam to Non-Muslims
According to a minority of scholars, it may be permissible for Muslims to initiate the greeting of “salaam” to non-Muslims if specific circumstances warrant it or make it necessary.
Majority opinion among scholars is that Muslims are discouraged from initiating the greeting of “salaam” towards non-Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) once said, “Do not initiate the greeting of salaam to a Jew or a Christian.”
Some scholars argue that the greeting of “salaam” is intended exclusively for exchange among Muslims citing that the Quranic verse mentioning greetings with “salaam” refers to interactions within the Muslim community.
Responding to Greetings from Non-Muslims
If a non-Muslim says “As Sam ‘Alaykum,” which means “may death be upon you” or if it is not clear whether they said “salaam” then Muslims should respond by saying “Wa ‘alaykum ” meaning “and upon you.”
If a non-Muslim greets a Muslim, with the greeting of “As-salaam ‘Alaykum “the majority of scholars advise Muslims to return the greeting. Muslims should respond in a manner prescribed by the teachings of the Shariah by reciprocating better greetings.
Some scholars suggest that Muslims may respond to Muslim greetings with the full Islamic greeting of “As-salaam ‘Alaykum” because Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) instructed us to shorten it to just “wa ‘alaykum” due to prevailing customs at that time.
Almost all scholars agree that it is obligatory for Muslims to reply to the greeting of “salaam” from non-Muslims as they would for Muslims.
It is generally understood that Muslims are not expected to initiate the greeting of “salaam” towards non-Muslims.
It is widely agreed upon by scholars that Muslims should respond to the greeting of “salaam” from non-Muslims in a manner with teachings offering a similar or even better greeting.
Allah knows best.