In the books of the scholars of hadeeth, there are many etiquettes mentioned which relate to the student of knowledge and the wider Muslim community.

Some of those etiquettes deal specifically with writing Islamic words, as this was something that was important to students of hadeeth who were writing the words of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

With the advent of email, SMS, and the internet, people are increasingly turning to shortened versions of words. However, this is not a new phenomenon. Students of hadeeth in the early years of writing becoming popular were expected to write at the same pace as the natural language of their teacher, and so some may have been tempted to shorten Islamic words and phrases.

The scholars of the science of hadeeth, as well as the scholars of Islamic etiquettes spoke strongly against this practice, especially with regard to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). For example, if a person wanted to write صلى الله عليه وسلم, they might be tempted to suffice by writing ص - this was a practice that was universally condemned by the scholars of the time. So what did they advise them to do? Leave a space, then come back later and write the full phrase, out of respect and honour of the Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

So how does this related to electronic communication? I get many text messages that start with slmz and finish with jzk, and of course they will come over iA. This is from the examples of bad manners towards Allāh and His Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and is exactly the same as some of those early students who were rebuked for writing ص.

But how do we keep up with the fast pace of electronic communication?

You have three options:

  1. Stop being lazy and write the text in full, expecting the reward from Allāh for doing so.
  2. Don't write the phrase in the first place. Since slmz and iA don't have any meaning anyway, you aren't doing anything worse, and in fact you are saving yourself from this bad etiquette. If it comes to the name of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), just say صلى الله عليه وسلم and don't write it. I'm not saying that I recommend this, but it is still better than what people are doing today.
  3. Use a system where you can type the phrases quickly. This can be as simple as using the copy/paste function in your phone, or the template feature of your email client. Remember to still say صلى الله عليه وسلم if you use a shortcut.

With regard to the last point, there is a very useful feature that you can use, at least for iPhone, Android, Windows, and Blackberry phones, as well as for Mac OS X based computers, and most likely for Windows and Linux based computers as well (although I haven't tried on those except for Microsoft Office, and you may need to download some extra software). The feature enables you to type a quick sequence of letters, and the phone or computer replaces them with the full phrase.

For example, I write on my phone slm and the phone replaces the phrase with assalāmu 'alaykum - I can even use difficult symbols because the phone stores them in memory and I don't have to type them every time.

Here are the instructions for doing this on various phones and computers:

One important point to note is that you want to choose a phrase that is both easy to type and not replicated as part of a normal word. For example, you don't want to use saw for صلى الله عليه وسلم because every time you write: yes, I saw the brother yesterday you will end up with: yes, I صلى الله عليه وسلم the brother yesterday. On the other hand, something like pbuh is quite good, because it isn't going to be part of a normal word.

Also, you can use the feature for typing things like Arabic phrases that you find it hard to type normally, or things that you frequently spell incorrectly. I even use it to avoid typing my email address! Most of the software mentioned above auto corrects capital letters as well, so when you type it after a full stop, it automatically makes the first letter a capital.

Here are a few properly written Islamic words and phrases to get you started (you can copy and paste them into the software you are using if you like):

  • assalāmu 'alaykum (slm)
  • wa 'alaykumussalām (wslm)
  • wassalāmu 'alaykum (wsa)
  • jazākallāhu khayran (jkh)
  • jazākillāhu khayran (jkih)
  • jazākumullāhu khayran (jkuh)
  • mā shā' Allāh (msh)
  • in shā' Allāh (insh)
  • al-hamdulillāh (hmd)
  • subhānallāh (sbh)
  • wa iyyāk (iyk)
  • may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him (pbuh)
  • صلى الله عليه وسلم (saaw)
  • Allāh (I replace the spelling of the word Allah without the bar over the a to make the spelling better)

When I'm translating on my Mac, I even add shortcuts for the proper romanised equivalents of Arabic letters, like:

  • ā (//a)
  • ī (//i)
  • ū (//u)

Even better, you can now sync shortcuts between iOS and OS X using iCloud, as mentioned here.

The double forward slash is just a quick way for me to type the shortcut without worrying about it happening by accident. Obviously, that wouldn't work on a mobile because the forward slash is awkward to write, but on my iPhone at least it's easy to write ā by just holding down the 'a' key, so no need for a shortcut there.

To conclude, I'm not suggesting that you give up writing the phrases properly, as this is always the preferred option and the most correct in terms of Islamic manners, and it has a reward in the sight of Allāh. What I am saying is that it is a lot better to have the phone write assalāmu 'alaykum for you, than for you to send someone a message starting slmz!

PS: while I'm on writing this, I'll also mention that it is not appropriate to say to someone jazākallāh without adding khayran. The word jazā in Arabic is used for both good and bad, including being used for the punishment of the people of Hellfire. Even if it's clear what you mean, it's good etiquette to follow the Sunnah and say the whole thing!