I was having a conversation with an older brother and he brought up the point that when I greet him I should not embrace him. In America, especially among the African-American Muslims there is a common practice of greeting each other (the brothers that is) and doing a practice common in Egypt of touch cheek to cheek on the right side, then left side then right side. It is just a form of greeting.
According to the brother I was speaking to, there is a hadith that states that a believer asked the Prophet (pbuh) about how to greet others, then asked whether one should kiss the other person, the Prophet said no, then asked whether one should embrace the other person, the Prophet said no, then finally he asked whether one should shake hands with the person, the Prophet said yes.
Insha’Allah I was wondering whether you could explain this hadith and its authenticity, as well as comment on the fact of whether greeting in this way is wrong.
The narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) that you have referred to is reported by Tirmidhi (Kitaab al-Isti’zaan wa al-Aadaab) and Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his “Musnad”. The narrative, with ignorable differences has been reported as:
A person asked the Prophet (pbuh): When one of us meets his brethren or his friends should he bow for them? The Prophet said: No. He asked: Should he hug them or kiss them? The Prophet replied: No. He asked: Should he shake their hands? The Prophet (pbuh) said: Yes. (as reported in Tirmidhi)
This incident has been reported only by Tirmidhi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The three most accepted and basic compilations of the narratives of the Prophet (pbuh), that is: Malik ibn Anas “Mu’atta”, Bukhari‘s “Sahih” and Muslim’s “Sahih” do not report this narrative as it was not acceptable according to their standards.
As far as the issue of “how should one greet his brethren and friends” is concerned, the directive of the Shari`ah in this regard is restricted to the fact that a Muslim should greet his brethren by praying for them in the words: “Assalaam Alaikum”. This is the greeting that was taught and promoted by the Prophet (pbuh) in his Sunnah. As far as shaking hands or hugging or brushing cheeks or kissing the cheeks or kissing the forehead are concerned, none of these is a part of the Islamic Shari`ah or the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). All these styles of greeting friends and relatives are parts of the cultural and social norms and may vary from culture to culture. Islam has not prohibited them and it has neither promoted them by making them a part of the Shari`ah.
In my opinion, therefore, the important part in greeting our brethren is that it should be with the words: “Assalaam Alaikum”. Besides this, any style of greeting that is accepted and liked in the culture may be adopted except that which may be against any of the explicit directives of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
29th January 1999