As-salamu alaykum is the greeting of Muslims and Arabs around the world, often simply shortened to salaam. Different ways of spelling this in western script or transliteration are: assalamuʿalaykum, assalamu alaikum, as-Salaam-Alaikum.

Why ‘alaykum and not ‘alayki?

The literal translation means ‘peace be upon you all’. The expression used interchangeably to greet an individual or group, male or female. Why then do we say ‘you all’ rather than adapt this greeting to match gender and number as we do in other contexts? A dear Arabic teacher once explained this to us:

Islamic tradition refers to two unseen angels who sit on the shoulders of all people and whose duty it is to record all deeds, both good and bad. The angel sitting on the right records good deeds and the angel on the left records bad deeds. These angels are called كراما كاتبين , kiraman kaatibeen, the ‘two honourable scribes’.

Let’s look at this a little closer:

The Arabic root k-t-b

  • kiraman means the two honourable ones
  • kaatibeen means the two scribes

Do you notice the root k – t – b? This is the same root that makes up library, author, office and book.

Depending on your level of Arabic, do you notice the dual form?

These holy scribes are referred to in the Quran,

“And indeed, appointed over you are keepers, noble and recording; they know whatever you do” Chapter 82 (Al-Infitar), verses 10-12.

“When the two receivers receive, seated on the right and on the left, man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared to record” Chapter 50 (Qaf), verses 17-18.

According to Islam, when Judgement day arrives, all the scribes from the course of history will present their meticulous records of good and bad deeds to Allah, and Allah will decide the destiny of each person accordingly. These records will also be presented to the individual so that they may understand for themselves precisely what they did during their earthly lives and why Allah is sending them to heaven jannah or hell.

When you say As-salamu alaykum, you are addressing not only the individual but these honourable scribes as well.





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