Alright, I admit it. There are countless times where I greet “assalamualaikum” to my non-Muslim friends and get a “waalaikumsalam” in return. Fine, to be more honest, I even do that to my Muslim friends (real religious ones) and even they reply. They do so, despite knowing that I am a Christian. Fun aside, you’ d really have to admit that it has become an integral part of Malaysian culture. The fact that its part of Malay culture (formed significantly by Islamic practices) is undisputed, but occasionally, it has afforded to make a guest debut into the larger Malaysian sphere. Case in point: Me the Christian wishing “assalamualaikum” to a Muslim friend.
Well, for a long time after getting into habit of saying “assalamualaikum”, I never actually gave due recognition to the significance and power that comes with saying it. As I said, I merely wished people simply because it is a very significant part of Malaysian culture. However, after a Muslim wished it to me, it was only then that I had experienced the power of that particular word. I had realised what I done all along—wish peace unto others. I also realised another thing—no one cooks up a fuss like how the “Allah” controversy has. In other words, “assalamualaikum” seems less controversial than “Allah”. Why that is so is for another discussion altogether.
What was so life-changing about this word to me? Well, after parking my car at an adjoining housing area 10 minutes away from my office, I would take a 10-minute walk to the office. Halfway through, there would be a stall manned by a Malay man selling food for breakfast and at the time I pass his stall, he would be attending to many customers. Occasionally, I would be one of those many customers. Nevertheless, despite all that commotion at his little makeshift stall, he would actually notice me and greet me from afar with “assalamualaikum”. Yes, he is Muslim and he wears a “kopiah”.
Well, whatever it was, it was certainly spiritual adrenaline needed to get through the day. After all, I had just gone through a bad jam at the toll plaza and I was going to have a long day at work, notwithstanding the fact that there will be another jam. In other words, it just gave me an assurance that the day will pass off without a hitch. More accurately, it just seemed like I was more positive when faced with a work-related challenge. I wonder if it would be the same in other scenarios.
As explained, “assalamualaikum” and “waalaikumsalam” are merely Arabic terms for “peace be with you” and “peace also be with you”, respectively. We can say it in any language as this is not something not exclusive to any religious tradition. Better yet, every religious tradition propagates and teaches peace, in the context of their respective perspectives. We Christians too, are no different in playing our part for peace but it really bugs me to find out that we’re not really in the business of wishing someone else “peace be with you”; using “hello” or some other greeting instead.
In the eucharistic liturgies of the Church, particularly in the Catholic tradition where I come from, the rite where we extend our peace to one another is called the Rite of Peace. If the liturgy is to be understood in a sacramental and mystical manner, the Rite of Peace is more than a mere greeting or a “Hallmark” moment. In fact, it is a prayer that we may enjoy the fruit of the union prayed for by Jesus (John 17:21). The fruit of this union is peace, notwithstanding oneness and love. Most importantly, no one is to be excluded in this prayer, even if the person in question is not a Christian.
The fundamental basis of the Rite of Peace lies simply in 1 John 4:11-12; 20-21:-
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us… If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
I need not say more.
As this is clearly taught in the Word of God, what is stopping us from saying more than hello and wishing peace to others, including others who do not share our faith? The parable of the Good Samaritan would have taught us more than enough that we should do our bit, even if they are not Christian. This practice is beyond relativism and will in no way dilute our faith in God. They may not believe in our faith but this simple practice goes a long way in telling the world about the peace that only Jesus can give.
Furthermore, now that we are at the threshold of a transition; moving away from the confines of racial and religious barriers, we must take full advantage of this new chapter in the book of Malaysian history and make peace with all our other Malaysian companions. Of course, there is a small fear that selfish politicians will further destabilise the country, but if we can all answer the call of being Christian witnesses of peace, not even the smallest of rumours can break us apart.
Thirdly, in referring to wishing “peace be with you” as a prayer, St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In other words, saying “peace be with you” and extending “peace to one another” would not only reveal the depths of our spiritual life but will also help enhance the local Christian community as a concrete witness for Malaysian society in the second chapter of our Malaysian history.
Peace, if fundamentally understood, is more than just the “absence of war”. It is an essential ingredient of happiness. With peace comes serenity & contentment, despite difficulties. Peace is the source of generosity and unselfishness in our dealings with others. Therefore, like the Malay man I encountered a few months ago, let us also take full privilege and delight in extending the gift of Jesus to others in celebrating this Rite of Peace in our own special way, when encountering those we meet.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)