“Wow we haven’t seen each other since we were kids,” I said looking at a picture in their hallway as I left a brief meeting with long-time friends of my family and the Mom & Dad of one of my childhood friends.
We are all part of a multi-generational community of Muslims here in Baltimore which is itself one of many loosely affiliated Muslim communities across the country having an interwoven history of, and shared experiences as, African Americans in the USA.
As I walked out through the front door, I smiled, feeling good about the exchange with this couple of 41 years.
“Please give Jaleel the greetings for me,” I said to his Mom.
“Definitely,” she said.
“And likewise please give the greetings to your Mom & Dad from us!”. “You got it!” I said. “As- Salaamu Alaykum,… see you soon.”
“Wa Alaykum As Salaam Muhammad!” they said as I jumped in my vehicle.
This is a standard parting of ways where I’m from, a standard expression of care, a byproduct of community life in action. But I wonder sometimes if we as a community are really harnessing the full value embedded in the religious symbols and scriptural language that we encounter and use frequently.
If I asked Jaleel’s mom & dad to “Tell Jaleel I said Hi!” is it the same as asking them to “Tell Jaleel I say As Salaamu Alaykum!”? Is that the same as asking them to “Tell him I send the greetings!”?
I get the sense sometimes that people use these terms and language interchangeably, and as I thought about it more I figured this would be a good topic for the ICJS Imagining Justice in Baltimore crew to discuss. So I’m looking forward to comments and conversation at our next get together everyone!
To send greetings to a friend through an intermediary will probably inspire some joy, and further the friendship; however, to wish a person, not currently in your presence, the best you can wish for them, while reminding them to continue to position themselves to be their best self is uniquely inspiring in my opinion. The Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faith traditions all utilize a language and a concept of a higher peace, a peace based in faith.
My understanding is that this is a multilayered peace rooted in a belief (which itself should be based in scriptural understanding and clear logic) that the individual’s perspective, thinking, and actions are aligned with what the Creator prefers for the human perspective, for human thinking, and for human actions.
This belief (I believe) comforts the soul and the sensitivities with the assurance that as aspects of the world inevitably agitate the believer, those perceived challenges are really opportunities for the believer to assess and respond with the proper moral perspective of the circumstances and the best ethical thinking and rationale. The correct perspective and thinking process should produce consistent behavior that furthers the value that the Creator wants for everything and everyone created. Believers are in my opinion, training their minds, bodies, and sensitivities to respond to the stimuli of human life in a manner that furthers the best of human thinking and the best of human behavior in the world, even if they are not conscious of this general development process happening in them, or of the larger development happening in the human species that they are contributing to.
Consciously choosing to respond with the best of one’s self, even when some ramifications of that response may be painful, harmful, or otherwise undesirable, is (I believe) the human exercise that develops and reinforces said sense of peace. To wish this peace on someone else is to wish them a supreme sense of contentment and satisfaction that is itself rooted in a demonstrated success at responding to stimuli from this creation we are all immersed in. No other criteria determine the level of peace attained other than the criteria of human choice in this natural world.
To wish this “best” type of peace, or phrased differently, this highest level of peace attainable on another human being is, in my opinion, why it is said that, “There are many greetings, and As-Salaamu-Alaykum is the best of greetings.”
Greeting another human being with a wish or stated desire that they attain the highest level of satisfaction, is to me, a beautiful concept that I believe is many times lost among many Muslims and others in our mundane, repetitive mouthing of “As Salaamu Alaykum” and the standard response of “Wa Alaykum As Salaam.”
I believe a refresher on the core relevance of this unique concept of peace may guide and assist many human beings in their ongoing search for greater understanding and contentment and peace.
As I left the home of my childhood friend and asked his mom to relay ‘the Greetings’ to him that day, I just hoped he would get the message and be refreshed in his thinking about our friendship. Maybe he would get the message and reminisce, maybe he’d smile and get back to his work, or maybe he’d hear the words and their higher meaning would register with his soul and thus guide his perspective as he carried out his work.
So to all my fellow believers from the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faith traditions, all my ICJS fellows, old buddies and new friends alike, it’s been a great experience, I want to wish you a happy 2019 and may the highest level of peace be your way.
Muhammad Najeeullah is Coordinator of Open Works Mobile, Founder of FullBlast STEAM, and a member of the 2018 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.
Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.