Misinterpretation of 33:56

Al-Salat ala al-Nabi and Al-Tasleem

This very common phrase (Al-Salat ala al-Nabi and Al-Tasleem) which translates to (Salat to the Prophet and tasleem) derives from the following verse:

God and His angels 'yusalloon ala al-nabi'. O you who believe you shall 'sallu alayhee' and 'sallimu tasleeman'. 33:56

The literal translation of this verse is:

- God and His angels offer Salat to the Prophet; similarly you (believers) should also offer Salat to him and 'tasleem'.

The word 'yusalloon', which is the verb from the word Salat, meaning 'to give Salat' and is the plural verb of the word 'yussalli'. The word is plural because it speaks of God and the angels.

Since this is a clear command from God, it is important to understand its correct meaning. We notice that the verse contains two commands; the 'Salat ala al-Nabi' and the 'Tasleem'. The purpose of this paper is to determine the correct meaning of the two commands.

First: The meaning of 'Salat ala Al-Nabi':

An appropriate starting point is to present the interpretation of these words among Muslims today. Following that, it is necessary to determine if this interpretation is correct in the light of the Quran. If we ask any Muslim what the meaning is of the simple and widely spoken words 'Salli ala al-Nabi' (offer Salat to the Prophet), strangely enough, we will receive a number of different meanings! In reality, most Muslims are not exactly sure what these words really mean. The reader is welcome to try this for himself.

The simple question that is asked is:

"When you say 'Salli ala al-Nabi' what do you really mean? Are you praising the Prophet? Are you saying prayers for God to bless the Prophet? Are you commemorating the Prophet so he may intercede for you on Judgement Day or what exactly?

Sadly this widely repeated phrase has become a number of things except the one thing that it was really meant to be! For one thing it has become a means to break up arguments! If two Muslims get involved in a heated argument you would find one of them saying to the other:

"Why don't you te'salli ala al Nabi?"!

Similarly if one Muslim is about to ask a favour of another, he often starts with the same words: "Salli ala al Nabi", after which he would get into what he really means to say!

We must pause here and wonder, is the aim behind God's command in 33:56 to provide us with an effective tool to break up arguments or to facilitate the obtaining of favours from one another? Obviously not! The words in 33:56 inform us that God and his angels give Salat to the Prophet, but surely God does not get into heated arguments with anyone, nor does God ask favours from anyone!

If the ordinary Muslim has not made up his mind as to the meaning of the words he repeats many times a day, then what is the opinion of the Muslim scholars?

First they will say that God has exclusively honoured Prophet Muhammad in 33:56 when God says that He and the angels give Salat to the Prophet.

Immediately, this claim can be proven to be false by clear Quranic evidence. In the Quran we read that God and His angels also give Salat to all believers and not just to the Prophet. In 33:43 God addresses the believers and says:

He is the one who 'yu'salli alaikum' (offers Salat), as well as His angels, to lead you out of the darkness into the light. 33:43

we also read:

These (the believers) are granted 'Salawat' (plural of Salat) and mercy from their Lord, and these are the guided ones. 2:157

Once again, the words in 2:157 confirm the same truth in 33:43. This being that Salat offered by God is not exclusive to Prophet Muhammad but to all believers. To interpret 33:56 that God exclusively honoured the Prophet is therefore contrary to Quranic evidence.

The matter does not end there; in Sura 9 we find God commanding the Prophet to give Salat to the believers:

Take a charity from their money to cleanse and purify them with it and 'salli alayhim'. Your 'Salawat' (plural of Salat) provides them with tranquillity. God is Hearer, Knowledgeable. 9:103

If this verb 'yusalli' (offer Salat) is offered by God to the believers, also by the Prophet to the believers, how can the interpreters say that it is an exclusive honour bestowed by God on the Prophet?

To wiggle out of this tricky situation the interpreters have come up with quite an extraordinary excuse. They claim that the word "Salawat" as used in such verses has no less than five different meanings!

1- They say that when God offers Salat to the Prophet (33:56), it means honouring him exclusively.

2- When God offers Salat to the believers (33:43, 2:157), it means granting them His mercy.

3- When the angels offer Salat to the Prophet (33:56), it means constantly praising him.

4- When the angels offer Salat to the believers (33:43), or when the Prophet offers Salat to the believers (9:103), it means imploring God's mercy for them.

5- When the believers offer Salat to the Prophet (33:56), it is a sign of loving him and following him.

How convenient is that! How can God issue an identically worded command to the Prophet and to all believers but the scholars tell us it has different meanings?

What is even more alarming is that, as it turns out, none of these five meanings is correct! The word Salat has been mentioned in the Quran to give two different meanings as follows:

First Meaning: The Salat that is offered by the believers to God. This is well defined act of worship in the Quran. It includes ablution, facing Qibla, standing bowing and prostrating while praising and glorifying God. This form of Salat is mentioned in numerous Quranic verses such as:

I am God; there is no God but Me. Therefore, you shall worship me and observe the Salat to commemorate Me. 20:14

Second Meaning: The Salat that is offered by God and the angels to all believers including the Prophet (33:43, 33:56), as well as the Salat offered by the Prophet to the believers (9:103), as well as the Salat offered by the believers to the Prophet (33:56). The common meaning between all the above is the Salat which means support.

In 33:56 God tells us that He (and the angels) offer Salat to the Prophet and instructs us to do the same. God and the angels support the Prophet, and the believers are also instructed to offer support to the Prophet.

Similarly, the angels support the believers (33:43), the Prophet is instructed to support the believers (9:103).

The correct meaning of Salat in all the mentioned verses is verified in a number of Quranic verses:

1- God supports His Prophet:

We have granted you (O Muhammad) a clear victory so that God may forgive your early sins as well as the later ones, and to complete His blessings upon you and guide you on a straight path. Additionally, God will support you with a mighty support. 48:1-3

2- The angels commanded by God to support the Prophet:

You told the believers, "Is it not enough for you that your Lord supplies you with three thousand angels sent down?" 3:124

3- Believers commanded to support the Prophet of God:

It (spoils of war)
is for the poor immigrants who were banished from their homes and their possessions as they sought God's favour and consent and supported God and His messenger. They are the truthful ones. 59:8

If you do not support him (the Prophet), God has already supported him. When the disbelievers drove him out, and he was one of two in the cave, he said to his friend, "Do not grieve; God is with us." So God brought down His tranquillity upon him and reinforced him with soldiers that you did not see. 9:40

Those who have believed in him, honoured him, supported him, and followed the light which was brought down with him; they are the successful ones. 7:157

Throughout the Quran, the believers are instructed to do the following with regards to the Prophet of God:

1- To believe in him.

2- To support him.

3- To obey and follow his message (the Quran).

It must also be noted that the command to support the Prophet can only apply to those who lived at the time of the Prophet and during the life of the Prophet. As the Prophet is now dead and no longer with us, it is not possible to support him personally.

It is also worthwhile to analyse the words in 33:43 and why they validate only one meaning for the word Salat in such verses, that being; to support.

1- The angels do not have the authority to bless the believers; all blessings come from God alone. The angels do not exalt any believers; only God is worthy of exaltation. The angels cannot grant mercy to any human; all mercy comes from God. The angels do not have the authority to forgive anyone; all forgiveness comes from God alone. All that the angels can do is support the believers, in accordance to God's commands.

2- Similarly, God would not ask forgiveness for the believers; God is the One who forgives. God does not exalt anyone; He alone is worthy of exaltation. However, God supports the believers (Prophet Muhammad included) to take them out of the darkness into the light.

3- Similarly, when the Prophet offers Salat to the believers, as God commanded him in 9:103, or when the believers offer Salat to the Prophet, as commanded them in 33:56, it is in the sense of offering help and support.

It is also necessary to point out that these commands were only applicable during the life of the Prophet. Now the Prophet is dead, he is not able to support the believers, nor are the believers able to support a dead man.

Second: The meaning of 'tasleem':

In the above analysis we arrived at the correct meaning of offering Salat to the Prophet, and to whom the instruction to do so was applicable. The second part of the command in 33:56 is in the words 'sallimu tasleeman'. For that we need to determine the meaning of the word 'tasleem'.

Once again, this command has also been corrupted, resulting in Muslims performing an act of sending greetings to a dead man who, according to Quranic words, can neither hear them nor respond to them. This will be demonstrated below. This incorrect interpretation is based on wrongly interpreting the word 'tasleem' in 33:56 to mean greeting!

To verify the Quranic meaning of the word 'tasleem' we need to review this word plus all Quranic words which are similar to the word 'tasleem', and determine the correct meaning of each of these words.

1- Islam: This word, which is the name of the religion authorised by God, means submission to God:

The religion in the sight of God is Islam (submission to God). 3:19

Whoever seeks other than Islam for a religion, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. 3:85

2- Salaam: This word means peace and is the word used for greetings:

Do not say to one who offers you 'salam' (greeting), "You are not a believer." 4:94

3- Salm: This word also means peace:

If they should incline to 'salm' (peace), so shall you be inclined and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Knowledgeable. 8:61

4- Saleem: This word means without defects, whole or pure:

(That is) the Day when neither money, nor children, can be of any benefit, but only those who come to God with a heart that is 'saleem' (without defects, pure). 26:88-89

5- Istislam: This word means surrender:

On that day they will be 'mustaslimoon' (in total surrender). 37:26

6- Sullaman: This word means a ladder or stairways:

If their aversion is too great for you, then see if you are able to seek a tunnel in the earth, or a 'sullaman' (stairway) into the sky, and thus produce for them a miracle (they still would not believe). 6:35

7- Tasleem: This word, which is the subject of the instruction in 33:56, means recognition and acceptance.

It is noteworthy that the word 'tasleem' is found in only three Quranic verses. In each of the three verses this word means recognition and acceptance:

Verse 1
No, by your Lord; they are not believers until they make you judge the disputes which arise between them, then find no animosity in themselves towards what you have decided and 'yusalimu taslemman' (accept it wholeheartedly).

God is not saying in 4:65 that no one is a believer until he sends greetings to the Prophet, but by accepting the verdict offered by the Prophet when resolving the disputes among the believers.

Verse 2
When the believers saw the parties they said, "This is what God and His messenger have promised us. God and His messenger have indeed been truthful." This only increased their 'iman' (faith) and their 'tasleem' (recognition). 33:22

Once again, God is not saying that the believers strengthened their faith and their greetings!

Verse 3
God and His angels 'yasalloon' (support) the Prophet. O you who believe you shall 'sallu alayhee' (support him) and 'sallimu tasleeman' (fully accept him).

In this third verse, the correct meaning once again is to recognise and fully accept Muhammad as the Prophet of God.
A simple and effective method of confirming that the word 'tasleem' means recognition and not greetings is to substitute each of the two words, first (recognition), then (greetings) in place of the word 'tasleem' in each of the three verses above to see which one of the two words make more sense.

Using the word 'greetings'

Verse 1- No, by your Lord; they are not believers until they make you judge the disputes which arise between them, then find no animosity in themselves towards what you have decided and send you greetings. 4:65

Verse 2- God and His messenger have indeed been truthful. This only increased their faith and their greetings. 33:22

It is obvious that the substitution of the word greetings in these verses makes no sense whatsoever. However if we insert the word recognition in place of 'tasleem' all three verses will make perfect sense.

The correct meaning of verse 33 of Sura 56 is thus:

God and His angels support the Prophet. O you who believe you shall support him and fully accept him (as the Prophet of God). 33:56

Indeed it makes perfect sense that God should command the believers to support His Prophet and totally accept him, rather than to be primarily concerned in people going around parroting the phrase "salli ala al-Nabi", without understanding what it means, and sending greeting to the Prophet who is dead and cannot hear them. The Quranic evidence for this is given below.

However, those who insist on inviting believers to constantly send greetings to the Prophet, claim that the Prophet is alive in his grave, that he can see visitors to his grave, that he hears their greetings and that he actually replies to their greetings! This scenario, which has its origin in the hadith, is in direct contradiction to a number of Quranic verses

FIRST: Indeed the Prophet is alive; however, he is not in his grave. The Quran confirms that all righteous believers who die are already in Paradise:

It was said, "Enter Paradise." He said, "I wish my people would only know about what my Lord has forgiven for me, and that He made me among the honoured." 36:26-27

To still claim that the Prophet is in his grave is to reject the truth in 36:26-27 and also in 3:169 and 2:154.

SECOND: The Prophet does not return the greetings because, as the Quran affirms, those who die cannot hear us, and thus cannot respond to us:

The ones you call on besides Him do not possess as much as a seed's shell. If you call on them, they cannot hear your calls. But even if they were to hear, they would not respond to you. 35:13-14

The Quran states that a barrier separates the dead from the living:

A barrier is placed behind them until the Day they are resurrected. 23:100

The correct meaning of 33:56, which is to support and recognise the Prophet, is also confirmed in the following verse:

Those who have believed in him, honoured him, supported him, and followed the light (Quran) which was brought down with him; they are the successful ones. 7:157

The words in 7:157 define what God requires the believers to do with regards to the Prophet:

1- To believe in him, which corresponds to the instruction: "sallimu tasliman" in 33:56

2- To support him, which correspond to the instruction: "sallu alayhi" in the same verse.

3- To follow the message that was revealed to him, which is the Quran.

The above three instructions are in total what God instructs any people to do with regards to their Prophet, whether they are the people of Moses, Jesus or Muhammad. God does not want any people to glorify or constantly send greetings to a dead man who cannot hear them. Undoubtedly, all glorification should be for God, the Lord of all the worlds.