Make “Peace” More Than Just a Greeting
by Imam Shamshad A. Nasir
Baitul hameed Mosque - Chino, CA
As an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino and a proud American I offer my sincere gratitude to my fellow citizens for the great support extended to me and my congregation. Through tolerance, respect and interfaith dialog we have made great strides in bridging the gap between members of different faiths during the past year. I also wish to express my gratitude to all those who serve to make this country a wonderful place where I am safe and free to profess, practice and preach my faith without any fear of persecution.
I am reminded of a saying of Prophet of Islam, Muhammad may peace be upon him, who is reported to have said, “He who is not grateful for small favors cannot be grateful for the bigger ones. He who cannot be thankful to people cannot render thanks for the favors of God. To talk about the blessings of God the Almighty is thankfulness; to not mention them is ingratitude.” The favor of God bestowed on me, that I as a Muslim can practice my faith freely in these United States of America, is certainly worthy of being grateful for. This gratitude dictates that I am more tolerant of my fellow citizens who do not share my beliefs, and I work arduously to remove any misunderstandings my fellow Americans may have about my faith, Islam. I condemn any and all extremism and terrorism, and the abuse of religion for the purposes of political or commercial gains, either here or abroad.
Terrorism, intolerance and hatred of any kind should always be dealt with forcefully, but equally vigorous attention should be given to distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys. We must not let our emotions and opinions be shaped by bias and propaganda, but informed by reason, common-sense and actual facts.
As a new year dawns, how can we work together to stem the tide of religious intolerance, hate and violence? How can we bridge this divide of fear, distrust and lack of communication between Muslims and non-Muslims? The answer is both simple and time-tested. Fourteen centuries ago, in the desert of Arabia, a former herdsman and well-known for his righteousness, honesty, humility and compassion was given the task of reforming not only his people but the entire world as well. He was given a Holy Scripture that promised complete and lasting guidance to all who followed it with sincerity and dedication. Along with this, he spoke words of wisdom and straight-forward advice that can be applied by anyone. This man was Muhammad, the Holy Prophet and founder of Islam (pbuh).
Once, as he was passing by a mixed gathering of pagan Arabs, Muslims and Jews, he greeted them all with the Islamic salutation “Assalaamo alaikum” – literally, “peace be upon you all.” Muslims use this expression every time they greet each other and it is used to greet individuals as well as groups. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) always made a point to greet everyone this way – not just those who believed in him as their messenger from God. It is a habit that Muslims are enjoined to follow but seldom do, usually address only fellow Muslims this way.
This is something Muslims can easily correct, and if they did, it would open up new avenues and opportunities for non-Muslims to get to know Muslims as peaceful friends, neighbors and co-workers. The words “Assalaamo alaikum” embody more than just a simple greeting of peace; they represent a responsibility and a promise of peace to the person receiving it. When Muslims say Assalaamo alaikum, they must mean it and, barring any hostilities from those addressed, Muslims are commanded by God and the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to always strive to create, sustain and protect peace wherever and whenever possible.
Another saying of the Holy Prophet about “Assalaamo alaikum” is that Muslims should be the first to say “peace be upon you.” Not only does this open the door of initial friendship between strangers, but it allows the reconciliation between previously estranged friends, rivals or relations. If these two habits of saying “peace be upon you” and striving to the first to do so were put into practice by both Muslims and non-Muslims, between and amongst themselves, one can see how quickly peace could become something alive in our lives and not merely a wish in our hearts.
To everyone reading these words and wondering if peace can ever be achieved between people of different faiths, creeds and nationalities, I say that yes, it can, and that it starts now with the greeting I give to you with all the responsibility it entails upon me: Assalaamo alaikum – peace be upon you. I urge everyone to make “peace” more than just a greeting and let’s see what happens in the coming year. May God bless and protect us all.
Sat, December 31, 2011
by Imam Shamshad A. Nasir