Greeting with the Salaam is a Sign of Islam
In the previous ayaat, stern warning has been given against the killing of a Muslim. Now, it is being said that the apparent profession of Islam is all that is needed for a Muslim to be regarded as a Muslim. So, it is necessary to abstain from the killing of a person who professes Islam.
Stating this command Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
يَـأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ إِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِى سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَتَبَيَّنُواْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ لِمَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَـمَ لَسْتَ مُؤْمِناً
“O you who believe! When you go forth in the way of Allah, investigate, and do not say to the one who offers you the (greetings of) peace, ‘You are not a believer,’”
Imam Ahmad and Al-Bukhari recorded from ibn Abbas that a man from Bani Sulaym was tending to his flock when some Companions of Rasoolullah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam passed by them. Seeing them, the man said “As-Salaam o Alaykum”. The Companions radhiAllahu anhum said to one another that the man only said Salaam to protect himself from them. Hence, they attacked and killed them. (It must be noted here that during that time believers and disbelievers were going through war times. Therefore, it was okay to kill a person from the enemy side.) They took the victim’s sheep and brought them to Rasoolullah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam. It was then when this ayah (94) was revealed.
Admonishing the act of Companions of Rasoolullah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
تَبْتَغُونَ عَرَضَ الْحَيَوةِ الدُّنْيَا فَعِنْدَ اللَّهِ مَغَانِمُ كَثِيرَةٌ
“seeking the transitory gains of this worldly life; for with Allah are abundant booties.”
In the incident quoted above the Companions murdered man to possess his sheep. Therefore, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is reminding the believers not to kill one another for petty worldly gains because what Allah has in the Hereafter is much greater than what the world offers.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then reminds the Companions, the state they were in before their accepted Islam. He says,
كَذلِكَ كُنتُمْ مِّن قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَتَبَيَّنُواْ
“Likewise you were before; then Allah conferred favor upon you; so investigate.”
This means that before their open profession of Islam the believers used to hide their faith. They would only come out open when they saw a fellow believer. So there is quite a possibility that the shepherd (whom the Companions murdered) was hiding his faith fearing the disbelievers but when he saw Muslims he greeted with the Muslim greeting.
Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu anhu said that the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said to Al-Miqdad,
إِذَا كَانَ رَجُلٌ مُؤْمِنٌ يُخْفِي إِيمَانَهُ مَعَ قَوْمٍ كُفَّارٍ فَأَظْهَرَ إيمَانَهُ فَقَتَلْتَهُ، فَكَذلِكَ كُنْتَ أَنْتَ تُخْفِي إِيمَانَكَ بِمَكَّةَ مِنْ قَبْل
“You killed a believing man who hid his faith with disbelieving people, after he had announced his faith to you. Remember that you used to hide your faith in Makkah before.”
Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al-Bazzar recorded that Ibn Abbas said, “The Messenger of Allah sent a military expedition under the authority of Al-Miqdad bin Al-Aswad and when they reached the designated area, they found the people had dispersed. However, a man with a lot of wealth did not leave and said, `I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah.’ Yet, Al-Miqdad killed him, and a man said to him, `You killed a man after he proclaimed: “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah? By Allah I will mention what you did to the Prophet .’ When they went back to the Messenger of Allah, they said, `O Messenger of Allah! Al-Miqdad killed a man who testified that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah.’ He said,
ادْعُوا لِيَ الْمِقْدَادَ، يَا مِقْدَادُ أَقَتَلْتَ رَجُلًا يَقُولُ: لَا إِلهَ إلَّا اللهُ، فَكَيْفَ لَكَ بِلَا إِلهَ إِلَّا اللهُ غَدًا؟
“Summon Al-Miqdad before me. O Miqdad! Did you kill a man who proclaimed, “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah? What would you do when you face, “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, tomorrow?”
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then ends this ayah reminding the believers that He is All-Aware of what we do.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيراً
We draw several lessons from this ayah. Firstly, we must accept people as they are and do not go around digging deep into their reality. For Allah knows what is true He didn’t send us on earth to keep tab on other people. We are here to practice Allah’s deen and to spread its message to other people. We are not here to highlight other people’s mistakes or to find faults in them.
Secondly, before taking any action one must investigate the reality. The Companions took a hasty decision and killed an innocent man. Killing a person is a grave sin and Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala dislikes it.
Thirdly, the Companions may have killed the man to possess his herd i.e. for a material benefit. Killing a person was only allowed in the way of Allah and not for material benefits. For Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds us not to get deluded by the adornments of this world and rather focus our attention on the akhirah where our return is.
Fourthly, we may consider ourselves to be better Muslims than our brothers and sisters-in-Islam just because we pray five times a day, fast, give zakah, do dawah etc. but that doesn’t give us the right to demean others. We should remember that ibadaah is with the taufeeq of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. If He doesn’t enable us to get up to pray, fast or give zakah our state would be similar to others. Therefore, we must remain humble and thank Allah for His favor upon us.