Passing the Peace: A Tradition in Many Faiths
While created as a Time for All Ages, the footnotes in this resource contain suggestions for expanding this moment into an entire Children's Chapel.
Please note: This Time for All Ages involves teaching the traditional Arabic greeting "as-salaamu ‘alaikum." Out of respect for that culture, and with awareness of what it means to engage with a culture that's been historically misrepresented, we urge you to lead this activity only if the leader speaks Arabic or is familiar with that language. No matter how good our intentions, clumsy or uninformed teaching of another language isn't something to model in our Unitarian Universalist congregations.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I have friends who are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and other faiths, too. Sometimes I like to go to their worship services.1
Have you ever been to mass? That’s what Catholics call their worship service. It’s very different from Unitarian Universalist services.
I love that in Catholic mass, they always do the same thing in every mass, every week, everywhere in the world. Anywhere Catholics go to mass on Saturday night or Sunday, they always know exactly what to do.
My favorite ritual of Catholic mass is called passing the peace. It happens in Lutheran and Episcopalian worship services, too. When you pass the peace, everyone stands up at their seats and turns to everyone they can reach. They shake hands and say, “Peace be with you.”2
I like Passing the Peace because it makes me feel welcome and included.
My Muslim friends have something similar to passing the peace, but it doesn’t only happen in the mosque, which is what Muslims call their houses of worship. Muslims pass the peace wherever they meet, anywhere in the world. And no matter what language they speak—Spanish, English, Chinese, Malay—Muslims around the world pass the peace in Arabic:
as-salaamu ‘alaikum ~ Peace be with you
There’s something else I love about passing the peace the Muslim way. It’s also sort of a code. In Islam, there are ninety-nine Names of God, or 99 words to explain who God is and what God does. Some of the Muslim words to describe God include Mercy, Justice, Gentleness, Generosity, Friend and Guide.3 My favorite Muslim words for God are Compassion, Love and Peace.
So when a Muslim says
as-salaamu ‘alaikum (Peace be with you), they are also saying,
Justice be with you
Mercy be with you
Compassion be with you
Love be with you
and God be with you.
You can do it, too, when you meet someone whom you know for sure is Muslim. Maybe she wears a headscarf in a certain way. Or he wears a certain style of skullcap.4 Or they are a friend or a relative whom you know is a Muslim. You can say,
as-salaamu ‘alaikum (Peace be with you).5
And then they’ll say,
wa ‘alaikum as-salaam (And with you, peace).6
- Here you could encourage children to talk about a time they went to a worship service in a tradition not their own. Where did they go? (church, temple, mosque) Who did they go with? (friend, relative, class trip)
- Encourage the children and the congregation to rise and pass the peace. After they’re seated again, ask, “How did that make you feel? Good?” If you have time, encourage the children to say something about the experience.
- Consider singing “To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love” (Hymn #93, Singing the Living Tradition) as your first hymn. Then, when you get here, say, "The hymn we just sang was written by an English poet named William Blake. He was not a Muslim, but in this hymn we sang that when we pray, we pray to Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love. All of those—Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love—are also names or descriptions of God in Islam."
- If you have time, you might also caution your audience about making assumptions. Many non-Muslim women also wear headscarves (Orthodox Jews, Druze, Hindu and Catholic nuns) and many Jewish men also wear small skullcaps called kippah or yarmulke.
- This might be a good time to teach the congregation how to say as-salaamu ‘alaikum. Here’s a suggested script:
The word for “peace” is “salaam.” “Salaam.” [gesture to the kids to repeat] “Salaam.” [gesture to the congregation to repeat] “Salaam.” Got it?
So, that’s “peace,” but in Arabic actually you say “the peace,” “as-salaam.” “As-salaam.” [gesture to the kids to repeat] “As-salaam.” [gesture to the congregation to repeat] “As-salaam.”
That’s “the peace.” Now, “be with you.” “عalaikum.” It starts with this funny sound like you’re swallowing: “عa.” “عa.” [gesture for kids to repeat] “عa.” “عalaikum.” [gesture for kids to repeat] “عalaikum.” [gesture for congregation to repeat] “عalaikum.”
When you put it all together, you add an “oo” in the middle. It’s a grammar thing, and makes it easier to say.
Now we put it all together: “as-salaamu alaikum.” “as-salaamu alaikum.” [gesture to kids to repeat] “as-salaamu alaikum.” [gesture to congregation to repeat] “as-salaamu alaikum.”
If you want to teach the response, here’s a suggested script:
· So, the word for “and” is “wa,” and we know how to say, “be with you.” “alaikum.” That gives us, “wa-alaikum” [gesture for kids to repeat] “wa-alaikum.” [gesture for congregation to repeat] “wa-alaikum.”
· And we know how to say “the peace,” “as-salaam.” “As-salaam.” [gesture to the kids to repeat] “As-salaam.” [gesture to the congregation to repeat] “As-salaam.”
· And this time when we put it all together, there’s no “oo” sound in between. It’s just: “wa-alaikum as-salaam.” “wa-alaikum as-salaam.” [gesture to kids to repeat] “wa-alaikum as-salaam.” [gesture to congregation to repeat] “wa-alaikum as-salaam.”
6. You don’t have to learn the response. For a non-Muslim, it’s unlikely you will need to use it, and you can always just repeat as-salaamu ‘alaikum.
If you have more time in your classroom or at home:
- Take time at the beginning to encourage children to talk about a time they went to a worship service in a tradition not their own. Where did they go? (church, temple, mosque) Who did they go with? (friend, relative, school trip)
- Have a conversation about assumptions and stereotypes.
- Why might it be hurtful to someone if you assume they are Muslim but they are not?
- If you hurt someone’s feelings, does it matter that you were trying to say or do something nice? What should you do when you find out your words were hurtful?
- How are these two questions different in their assumptions: "Are you Muslim?" versus "I'm curious about that scarf/cap/necklace you’re wearing. Can you tell me about it?"
Extension activities for engagement with Muslim communities:
- Contact a local mosque and ask if you can bring a group for a visit. Muslims gather for worship on Fridays, but in many American mosques they also have Sunday School programs.
- Most mosques have extra headscarves near the entrance for those who need them, but if you have a pashmina or a large square scarf, you might want to bring it along for the women and girls in your group.
- Find out if there is a local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the National Network for Arab American Communities near you. Ask them what local, state or national issues they are advocating for and how you can help, such as: hosting events in your congregation’s space; writing to government representatives; attending rallies; raising money or sharing the Sunday collection plate.
- Invite leaders of the local mosque, Muslim advocacy or refugee resettlement agency to speak to your congregation, or preach from your pulpit. Some tips:
- Help your guest speaker learn a little about Unitarian Universalism (the Pocket Guide to Unitarian Universalism is a good primer) and what your congregation is looking for.
- Be careful of “tone policing,” or telling a speaker to not talk about certain things or use certain language that might make your congregation uncomfortable. Instead, encourage your congregation to lean into their discomfort, consider its implications, and try to learn from it.
- Ask your guest speaker if they would like to stay afterward for a moderated Q&A. You might set the tone with the following simple covenant:
· Respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people and religions
· Ask questions from the standpoint of curiosity
· Be willing to examine and grapple with the ways personal assumptions shape your "truths."
- Find out if one of these refugee resettlement agencies is active in your area. They all offer opportunities to volunteer. Not all the refugees they resettle are Muslims, of course, which gives you and your congregation the opportunity to learn about lots of different cultures and religions from around the world:
Church World Service
IRC (International Rescue Committee)
Ethiopian Community Development Council
Episcopal Migration Ministries
HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants