Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 2: What We Say Matters

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Writing paper and pens/pencils

Preparation for Activity

  • Practice saying "As salaam alaikum" (As sa-LAM ah-LAY-kum) with palms together and thumbs near your heart, inclining your head or bowing slightly. Hear a pronunciation on the Islamic Dictionary website. Note that different spellings exist for this greeting.

Description of Activity

Participants learn traditional greetings of Muslims and others, and consider the importance of words we say every day.

Stand in front of participants, place your palms together in front of your heart, bow slightly and say to them, "As salaam alaikum." If you cannot face all participants at once, repeat as needed until you have greeted everyone present.

Explain that you just wished them peace. "As salaam alaikum" is the traditional greeting in Islam; meaning, "Peace be upon you." Ask youth to repeat the phrase, "As salaam alaikum," several times. Explain that "Wa alaikum as salaam" is the traditional response, meaning, "And upon you, peace." Practice with the youth saying, "Wa alaikum as salaam" several times.

Ask if any youth have been greeted in this way before. If so, ask where that took place. How did they feel about being greeted this way? Did they know that the greeter was wishing them peace?

Recall with the youth that the name Islam derives partly from the word "salaam"-sometimes spelled with two As: "Islaam." Explain further that "as salaam" is also considered to be another name for Allah; so when people greet each other saying "As salaam alaikum," they are wishing each other peace as well as the blessings of Allah.

If they live in a predominately non-Muslim community, ask youth what the customary greeting is where they live. If they live in a predominately Muslim community, ask what the customary greeting is among non-Muslims. Ask what meaning that greeting has for them. If there is a customary response, what is it, what meaning does it have?

Now ask: Once something has been said many times, does it lose its meaning?

Share that among the Masai people of East Africa, the traditional greeting is "Kasserian ingera," which translates to "How are the children?" The customary response is, "The children are well." Ask participants if this greeting suggests to them anything about the values of the Masai. Ask if they think using a greeting like the Masai's might have a gradual effect on the person saying it.

Ask the youth to pair up to sample the following greetings and responses to see how they feel. Some of the greetings are real and some have been created for the exercise. Suggest they each "try on" both parts of each greeting by physically walking toward one another, acknowledging one other, and saying:

  • "And have you learned today?" "Learning always, thank you. And you?" "Learning always."
  • "Shalom." "Shalom." (Hebrew: "peace.")
  • "How is your wealth?" "My wealth is growing. And yours?" "Growing and growing."
  • "Waapun" (Jamaican greeting that is short for "What's happening?"). "It's all good."
  • "Live long and prosper." "Live long and prosper."
  • "Another day, always the same!" "And never enough!"
  • "Are the people working?" "The people are hard at work."
  • "Blessed" (Icelandic). "Blessed."
  • "I wish you all good things." "I don't care what you wish."

What other greetings do participants know?

Ask the youth for their initial responses. How did they feel after giving each of these greetings? How did they feel to be responded to in different ways? Did any of your feelings surprise you? Continue discussion with questions such as:

  • Did the greetings you tried suggest anything about the cultures that would use them every day? What cultures would you wish to be part of?
  • Is the traditional greeting where you live neutral (like "Hello!"), or is there some content (like "How are you?")?
  • A customary greeting becomes automatic. Do people still mean it-if not completely, then at some level? Do you suppose the words "How are the children?" comes to mean "Hi" and only "Hi," or might the words retain some meaning, even when someone has said them many times?
  • Do you feel the values expressed in your customary greeting are your values? Do the words convey what you feel is most important?
  • If a common greeting is "How are you?" do you sometimes mean it and sometimes not? How does this affect your interactions with people?
  • Suppose you moved to a new place and learned that the customary greeting meant, "Go away," and the customary response translated as, "Get lost, yourself." Would that affect your thinking about that society? Would you feel comfortable saying that to people, even if the locals assured you it did not mean anything negative?

Ask participants the following:

If a greeting were an expression of your highest values and a blessing, then as a Unitarian Universalist what would your chosen greeting be? What would you most want for people, including yourself? What do you think is the best single thing a person or group can have? Would it be peace? Would it be money? The welfare of the children? Creativity? An empowered journey? Long life? What might a customary response be?

Recognizing that people want many different things, and that each of you will have a different answer, think for a few minutes about a simple greeting that would offer what you think is the best blessing people can have.

Give participants two to five minutes to think of their greetings. Distribute paper and pens or pencils and invite them to write their thoughts. Facilitators can also create greetings.

Then, have participants pair up and share their greetings, as though they were greeting each other in the ways they have chosen. If any youth have envisioned a customary response, ask them to provide that response to their partner and then exchange the greeting and response.

Invite participants to move to a new partner, preferably someone they have not worked with, and share their greetings.

Gather in a circle and share thoughts and reactions to the greetings. Ask: Which greetings did you like? What did you like about them? What might it mean for our society if one of these greetings were used in place of what is used now? If youth could choose a new greeting to use in their group of friends or their congregation, what would it be? Why?