بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Saying ‘Salawat’ upon Muhammad
- What is the context of 33:56?
- Is salloo a unique ritual for Muhammad?
- What did Muhammad really teach?
- Do we need to tell God to salloo Muhammad?
- How does God mention Muhammad’s name?
- Does God teach us to how to mention the prophets?
Islamic tradition advocates that it is incumbent upon Muslims to recite ‘salawat’ upon prophet Muhammad. It is practiced in different ways, like reciting ‘sallallahu alaihi wa sallam‘, usually translated as “Peace and Blessings be upon him”, every time his name is mentioned. It is often abbreviated as PBUH or SAW in text and print, immediately after his name. Or it is practiced as a durood – ‘allahumma salli ala Muhammad wa ‘ala aali Muhammad’; translated as “O God, send Blessings upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad”, which is recited during the contact prayer to God (salat).
Verse 33:56 is cited as the Quranic basis for this practice …
إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
Surely, God and His angels support the prophet. O you faithful, you shall support him and offer peace, a total peace offering. (33:56)
The word salloo translated above as support1, is traditionally understood as “sending blessings”2. Such an interpretation of this word is used to justify the commemoration and praise of the prophet day and night. To such an extent that when somebody mentions God or Allah without reciting additional words of glorification or praise, nobody would notice or care. But if somebody mentioned Muhammad’s name without reciting such additional ‘salawat‘, then some would react with immense shock and dismay. Let us examine whether the traditional understanding holds water in the light of the Quran, and what is the meaning of the word we can infer from the Quran.
What is the context of 33:56?
The context of 33:56 will help us confirm the real meaning of salloo in the verse. Much of sura 33, and particularly the verses preceding 33:56 describe the interaction between Muhammad and his community when he was alive. 33:53 has similar instructions and etiquettes addressed to يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُو [O you faithful] when interacting with the prophet, just like 33:56. To not force their way into the prophet’s home without invitation. To not linger behind after the meal, when invited. To give the womenfolk in the house their privacy and address them from behind a barrier. And so on. As is obvious, these instructions were specific to the companions of the prophet, on how to interact with him without harassing him, when he was alive and they were alive. They were not guidelines on how to interact with him after he was dead. The word salloo comes from the root meaning to connect or contact (same as in salaat – the contact prayer). In the context of interaction between human beings, salloona ‘ala or sallu ‘alaihi would mean to support, to encourage etc. Or as the antonym of harass, as the context further clarifies – as the subsequent verses instruct the community not to harass or slander the prophet and the faithful men and women, like Moses was harassed when he was alive (33:57-60,69,70).
Is salloo a unique ritual for Muhammad?
Just 13 verses before 33:56, God reveals that God and the angels sallee upon the faithful in 33:43, just like upon the prophet in 33:56. So it is not a special privilege or status that has been accorded to Muhammad, or a unique ritual instituted to commemorate him, in the manner that 33:56 is usually understood.
هُوَ الَّذِي يُصَلِّي عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَلائِكَتُهُ لِيُخْرِجَكُمْ مِنَ الظُّلُمَتِ إِلَى النُّورِ وَكَانَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَحِيمًا
He is the One who supports you and so do the angels in order to take you out of the darkness into the light. And He is All Merciful towards the faithful. (33:43)
Similarly, the prophet was instructed to salli upon his followers in 9:99,103. So it describes a mutual bonding between Muhammad and his community when they were alive.
What did Muhammad really teach?
And in the verses immediately preceding 33:43, that Muhammad taught with his own lips, we learn ….
وَسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلا οيَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا
O you faithful, remember God, a frequent remembrance.¶ And glorify Him constantly day and night. (33:41-42)
This is the real teaching of Muhammad, to commemorate God and glorify Him frequently and constantly. Not to commemorate himself frequently and constantly. Interestingly the exhortation to commemorate God frequently also appears two more times before this in the same sura (33:21, 33:35). That makes 3 of the 6 times it is mentioned in the whole Quran, in this sura.
Do we need to tell God to salloo Muhammad?
The Quran, in 33:56, instructed the companions of Muhammad to themselves do the same as what God and the angels did (i.e., support the prophet). It does not instruct us to tell God to do it instead. The way it is practiced, is as if the verse should have read … “God and His angels send blessings upon the prophet. O you faithful, tell God to send blessings upon the prophet”. What is the logic behind telling God to salli upon Muhammad, when the verse tells us that God already does it? Does God need reminders for this?
How does God mention Muhammad’s name?
God mentions Muhammad by first name four times in the Quran (3:144, 33:40, 47:2, 48:29). Never did God append this recitation of salawat to his name. Since 33:56 tells us that God did salloo upon the prophet, this confirms that the meaning of salloo cannot mean this recitation of salawat as tradition asserts. If it did, then God should have inserted this recitation when mentioning Muhammad’s name too.
Does God teach us how to mention the prophets?
God teaches us exactly how to ‘say’ the name of prophets. He commands us to ‘say’:
قُولُوا آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَى إِبْرَهِيمَ وَإِسْمَعِيلَ وَإِسْحَقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالأسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَى وَعِيسَى وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ لا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
Say, we believe in God and what is revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the Prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction amongst them, and to Him we offer peace. (2:136)
So we should ‘say’ Abraham, Moses, Jesus etc. without reciting anything after saying their names. Since God did not add anything for us to ‘say’ after their names. Now this verse does not mention Muhammad’s name explicitly. But it instructs us not to make any distinction between God’s prophets. So when we similarly ‘say’ Muhammad’s name, we should not be reciting anything with it either.