Returning A Better Salaam: A grammatical perspective of a Qur’anic Example

جَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَرَدَّ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامَ ثُمَّ جَلَسَ فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَشْرٌ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَقَالَ السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللَّهِ فَرَدَّ عَلَيْهِ فَجَلَسَ فَقَالَ عِشْرُونَ ثُمَّ جَاءَ آخَرُ فَقَالَ السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللَّهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ فَرَدَّ عَلَيْهِ فَجَلَسَ فَقَالَ ثَلَاثُونَ

A man came to the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam and said: Assalaamu Alaykum! He (Prophet) responded to his Salaam. The man then sat down. The Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam said: Ten (rewards).  Then another man came and said: Assalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah! He responded to his Salaam, and the man sat down. He said: Twenty. Another man came and said: Assalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh! He responded and the man sate down! The Prophet then said: Thirty.
Sunan Abi Dawood
…وَلَقَدۡ جَآءَتۡ رُسُلُنَآ إِبۡرَٲهِيمَ بِٱلۡبُشۡرَىٰ قَالُواْ سَلَـٰمً۬اقَالَ سَلَـٰمٌ۬‌

And Our messengers cam unto Abraham with good news. They said: Peace! He answered: Peace!

Surah Hud 69

The general context behind above Ayah is that the words, رُسُلُنَآ , refer to the Angels that sent glad tidings to Ibrahim alayhis salaam. In Tafseer Ibn Katheer, it is stated that scholars say that the ‘glad tidings’ could be in reference to either the destruction of the People of Lut or the referring to the son, Ishaaq, that Allah Ta’ala was granting Ibrahim and his wife Sarah alayhimas salaam.

There are many lessons to be learned from the above context, but I’d like to focus on what my Ustaadh brought up in class, which is the following part of the above ayah:

﴿قَالُواْ سَلَـماً قَالَ سَلَـمٌ﴾

They (the Angles) said: “Salaman.” He (Ibrahim) answered, “Salamun.”

Now,  according to the following verse, when returning someone’s salaam, it has to be equal or greater:

وَإِذَا حُيِّيتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ۬ فَحَيُّواْ بِأَحۡسَنَ مِنۡہَآ أَوۡ رُدُّوهَآ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ حَسِيبًا

When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally.

Certainly, Allâh is Ever a Careful Account Taker of all things.

Surah Nisaa 86

So, that leaves the questions, how is Ibrahim alayhis salaam ‘s response (SalaamUn) better than that of the Angels’ greeting (SalaamAn)?

The Angels’ greeting is in the state of mansoob (accusative case). An word in nasb or in accusative form, must be governed by a F’il (verb). Some of the Mufassireen, say that the verb in the above ayah is mahdhoof (omitted), and it could be read as “Sallamnaa SalaamAn” (We greeted a greeting of peace), with SalaamAn being a maf3ool bihi (direct object) of the verb. A verb is restricted to a specific tense or period of time, thus it only applies given the tense, past, present or future, but not necessarily all three.

Whereas, Ibrahim alayhis salaam ‘s reply (SalaamUn) is in rafa3 (subjective case) and thus not restricted to a specific tense, which alludes to the permanence and affirmation of his response of “Peace” therefore rendering it as a superior greeting.

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About Wondering Wayfarer

A wondering wayfarer wandering wistfully through the winding ways of the world in want of Wisdom.
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