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There is a greeting I have often heard among Muslims. (Thanks to Geeo in the comments for helping me find the "correct" spelling of the phrase):

As-salamu alaykum

To which there is a "traditional" reply as well:

Wa alaykumu s-salam

What do these phrases mean? Do they carry religious meaning or connotations, or are they used by non-Muslim Arabic-speakers as well? Would it be offensive (or at least out of place) if, as a Caucasian non-Muslim middle-class young male, I greeted a Muslim or Arabic speaker with this expression?

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Yes it does, although I can't remember the exact meaning at the moment. I studied Arabic for two semesters, and the concept of God is so tied in with the language that almost all of the standard sayings make some kind of religious reference. –  Chris Mueller Apr 16 at 16:49
    
do you mean As-salamu alaykum by any chance? –  Geeo Apr 16 at 16:52
    
@Geeo Yes, that's the one! Thanks, now that I know how to spell it, searching for information about it becomes much easier. –  IQAndreas Apr 16 at 16:56
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@happybuddha I feel it is on-topic. I, as either a traveler in an Islamic country, or at least interacting with someone from an Islamic culture, need to know whether or not it is "appropriate" for me to use that greeting with them. –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 4:04
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@MarkMayo I'm less interested in the actual meaning, and more interested in whether or not I, as a Caucasian non-Muslim middle-class young male, should use the phrase. –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 4:07

2 Answers 2

It has three forms, the short one:

Salam

Which means "peace", this is usually used between friends or when entering a shop or with people you usually meet.

Second form is the medium form:

As-salamu alaykum

The medium one means "peace be upon you". It has no religious meaning or whatsoever as it stands this way even though it was first used by the early Muslims. This form is the most used even in official meetings.

And the long form:

As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatu allahi wa barakatuh

The long form is indeed religious and means "peace be upon you and the mercy and blessings of god" or something like that. It is also used but not as much as other forms.

One thing to mention, the reply should be as long as the greeting or the longer form, if some one said "salam" you can reply with salam or one of the longer forms, if some greets you with "salam alaykum" reply with the same form or the longer one, it is not nice to reply with a shorter form.

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It isn't something like that, it exactly is : As salamu aleiykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh -Peace and mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you Waleiykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh-And peace and mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you - 22ndcenturymuslimah.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/hello-world –  happybuddha Apr 17 at 1:50

Wikipedia provides the answer for you:

As-salamu alaykum (السلام عليكم) is an Arabic greeting often used by Muslims around the world and is widely used in the Muslim world even by non-Muslims. It nearly translates to "peace be upon you", but is often considered the equivalent to "hello", "hi" or "good day" in English. The standard response to the greeting is Wa alaykumu s-salam.

The response has a wikipedia entry on its own:

Wa alaykumu s-salam or Wa ‘alaykum al-salaam (وعليكم السلام) is an Arabic greeting often used by Muslims and Arabs around the world translating nearly to "And unto you peace", but is often considered the equivalent to "hello" or "good day" in English. It is the standard response to the As-salamu alaykum greeting.

As a non-muslim I have used both greetings, but wikipedia has more elaborate explanations that it is okay for a non-muslim to use.

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