Let’s Not Shake On It

I was reading a post by another muslim lady about the awkward situation of being expected to shake hands with men, especially at work. Once I got going on my reply, I realized I’d considerably outwritten the original question, as so often happens, so I decided to post my tips on their own. Maybe it will help someone else as well :). If you have thoughts to add, please do by all means!

Although (like anything) it can’t be said to be universal, most muslims avoid unnecessary touching between men and women of the opposite sex, who are not close relatives (or married). Shaking hands can be quite problematic in this area, since it can be downright insulting not to do so, and it’s expected in certain circumstances.  People regularly evaluate others on the “quality” of their handshake, as well (I’ve always been cautioned to avoid the “limp noodle”). Avoiding shaking hands is also an area where I’ve struggled a lot, especially at job interviews. So, I thought I would share some tips in handling it. It CAN be done, but it can be harder than it seems. (More fun types of handshakes… we’re shooting for the last one, but less sad :D)

Increasingly unpleasant handshakes to avoid

On numerous occasions I have shaken hands by reflex. In fact I have to prepare myself in advance to be conscious that a handshake will likely be offered in order to be prepared to reject it! I think this is partly because I was trained from a young age to shake hands, I was in martial arts classes from age 7 and it’s customary to shake hands before and after each practice session with each person and upon encountering any person (even if you have met them before). So in the course of single class you would have shaken hands with everyone dozens of times. By the time I converted to Islam, shaking hands was like an automatic body memory for me, when a hand is stuck out, my hand jumps to respond. In fact even if I’m consciously planning not to shake hands, sometimes my arm sort of jumps like I’m GOING to shake hands and then I jam it back in my pocket (which is especially confusing to the other person).

Incidentally, I have the same problem from the same source with bowing automatically, luckily most people in the U.S. do not bow on meeting. But, I have accidentally bowed on entering buildings I’m not familiar with (because of bowing at the threshold on entering the dojang) and if someone else bows to me, my body jumps and bows back at them before I even think twice (unless I’m prepared, which usually I’m not). I had a funny situation with this when I had a new Japanese exchange student roommate in college. We introduced ourselves, and she started to bow, but suppressed it (doubtless remembering this was not customary in the U.S.). Unfortunately, triggered by her bow, I then ALSO started to bow, but then I backed up when she did, but then, seeing that I had bowed, she bowed again. Then I bowed. Hilarity ensued.

Despite my frequent slip-ups where my hand gets out there before I consciously suppress it, I do try not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. In fact, if I’m being introduced to a mixed group of people, I generally just don’t shake hands with anybody, as people seem to find it more insulting if I shake hands with women but then DON’T shake hands with men. Of course, when I’m being introduced to a group of muslim women and everybody wants to kiss and hug, that’s also awkward. Flashbacks to family reunions of youth and musty unknown relatives. But I endure.

Anyway, it’s not all bad. There’s always the obvious solution: the awkwardly offered religious explanation, but that alone does not always breed good will and makes some of us just want to throw up our hands altogether. It can at least be as equally nerve-wracking to contemplate.  Here are some things I have found out in the course of avoiding handshakes that might make it a little easier to jump into/persevere:

1) A lot of people offer to shake hands with you but then when you don’t stick your hand out, they say, “Oh, I bet you don’t shake hands because of your religion.” This has been happening to me more frequently. In this case they are not offended, it was just automatic for them too and then they realized it. Nice :).

2) A lot of non-muslims don’t like to shake hands either. They may be relieved rather than offended. I was surprised to discover this one time, when I was on the OTHER side of an interview board and we were looking at a new candidate (interviews are the worst for me, making me really worry about handshaking because it’s all formalized). Anyway, while we (a group of 6 or so including my boss, with me the only muslim) were waiting for the first interviewee to come in, someone said dispiritedly, “So, are we going to do the whole hand shaking thing?” Everybody groaned and moaned and several people added how much they disliked this routine and couldn’t we leave it out. It was decided we would just not do it and everyone was relieved. 😛

3) I’ll follow that up with a story about how before I converted, probably around age 14 or so, I was introduced to a woman and I promptly stuck my hand out, only to have her not respond (she said Hi, but didn’t acknowledge the hand). This was the first time this had happened to me and I was somewhat taken aback. Later, someone told me that while shaking hands is standard for men, it’s not standard for women. While in practice I’ve had plenty of people try to shake hands with me, it seems it’s not just a muslim thing.  (In retrospect, in this particular case it may also have had to do with the fact that I was working in a stable and she didn’t want to get all grimy. But I digress).

4) The easiest way I’ve found to avoid spur-of-the-moment hand shaking is to have something in your hand 😛 It also helps suppress the reflex to respond. This could be putting your hands in your pocket (lease effective), grabbing your purse, a water bottle, even last-minute hand lotion, (desperate? a kleenex visible in the hand really suppresses the urge of the other person to want to shake your hand), but the best thing is some kind of papers or notebook firmly gripped in your hand, preferably enough to prevent juggling around too much. Very few people will keep trying to maneuver around this. I respond to the introduction as enthusiastically as possible to make it clear that the lack of handshake is not a snub, again with my hands firmly occupied so there’s not even the hint of an attempt by me (any false move will often prompt the other person to stick out their hand even if they didn’t do so initially). The thing is, once I get over initially NOT shaking hands, especially if the other person stuck their hand out and I didn’t, I have found that most people clue in and are not totally bewildered as to why I didn’t shake hands. They get it, even if they aren’t familiar with Islam. If they ARE totally bewildered (or not bewildered by seem insulted) I offer an explanation, but otherwise, I frequently don’t as it seems to cause more embarrassment to the other person as well (if they did “get” it, but late).

5) Worse scenario: attempted handshake or (horrors) HUG by a muslim man, after “Assalamou alaikum.” What the what? Dodging is best here since an explanation is obviously not what is lacking. This species also serves to confuse non-muslims present especially if you use the  “but in Islam we don’t shake hands with the opposite sex” spiel when they’ve already encountered other muslims who did.

Of course, if you’re going to go the awkward route with handshakes, it’s hard to do much better than Rhys Darby  (skip to 47 seconds for the handshake part). Perhaps the humor-inclined amongst you can come up with a contrasting handshake-avoidance routine :):


About qatheworld

I review various and sundry items of life, thereby helping you to seek out positive new experiences and escape the less savory. I also perform a quality review of the other issues encountered in my general life.
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14 Responses to Let’s Not Shake On It

  1. imaanii says:

    This was very useful 🙂 I just remember one time when my parents were picking me up after I had visited a Muslim friend. My dad was trying to be polite, and was about to shake hands, and one of the girls said: “I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands with men”. My dad got very hurt, and it ruins a bit how he looks at Islam. They were polite about it, but you still feel very rejected. In Norway the Islamic Associaton have said that we can shake hands. I know that many people don’t agree with them, but I think they had some good points even though I see why people don’t want to shake hands too.

    • qatheworld says:

      I think that is really the biggest factor with avoiding handshakes, that of inadvertently insulting people. And I have heard some scholars argue that this can make an argument FOR shaking hands so as not to introduce conflict. I’m not the hard and fast “any fleeting contact with the opposite sex in any group is a disaster” segment. If somebody falls and needs assistance, for instance, I would feel it appropriate to help them up, not take things to extremes. But, to me a handshake isn’t usually in this category, although admittedly I feel uncomfortable avoiding it and I mess up, a lot. But, I also feel uncomfortable shaking hands. I also don’t think it’s always entirely innocuous. I’ve shaken a lot of hands in the past and there are those people who plainly mean to dominate through the handshake or show they are in control, or who comment on your hand afterwards (my you have big hands/your skin is so soft/cold/warm/etc), or “linger,” or grab your arm per the diagram above, etc. Shaking hands is something that when I initially learned to do it, I had to brace myself for it, I did not relish the thought. Now that I feel it’s best to avoid it, I also don’t relish the ensuing bad feeling that might result.

      However, I honestly feel that most people are not so much insulted by the concept that someone doesn’t shake hands, as they are insulted or embarrassed by how it is handled. There are a few people who would argue that the handshake is paramount and the very idea of not wanting to suggests untrustworthy behavior, but my sense has been that they are in the minority these days. Most men (especially younger ones) I think have been taught that shaking hands is correct (as I was), and they want to do the right thing. They also do not want to be shamed or embarassed, and I think this is part of what creates the bad feeling. This is part of the reason that I do not usually lead with the explanation. Maybe it would work better if I were better at smoothing things over verbally, but these things tend to come out of my mouth pretty bluntly :P. Ultimately, the handshake rejection causes a person to feel ashamed or embarassed, first that they offered “the hand of friendship,” however symbolically, and were “rejected,” and secondly they feel ashamed when they realize that the other party feels their advance was inappropriate. I try to help this out by being more nice and pleasant at the introduction than I really feel like, and to try to give them some time to figure it out (or not stick their hand out in the first place), and then explain only if they are still confused.

  2. This was really interesting, ma’shaAllah 🙂 Loved the ‘hold something in your hand’ tip 😀 Jazakillah khair ❤

    • qatheworld says:

      Hehe thank you 🙂 I am glad you liked it. I was going to post over on your site initially but then I decided it might be rude to hijack the thread since I got so long winded! One of the reasons I favor the avoidance method ( though perhaps more cowardly than just explaining lol) is also that my experience with handshaking has been that the reflex to shake hands is extremely hard to overcome, probably even more so in other people, and probably occurs before they have had the chance to think it through. Once people have time to think about it and perhaps notice that I’m avoiding shaking hands purposely, without calling them on it, I’ve been surprised at how many people “get it,” hopefully with less of a negative impression. My first inclination in life is to explain myself but in practice I’ve found that showing instead of telling sometimes goes over better with me (although a big factor could be that I’m not very eloquent at explaining things in person). If they don’t get it or are irritated, of course I have to trot out the explanation 😛 lol.

  3. Amatullah says:

    This was definitely a much needed post. Thanks for blogging about it! 🙂
    I’ve still got a question, though, and I’ve noticed that nobody really addresses it: What do you offer as an explanation to the man you don’t shake hands with? Do you just say “it’s my religion” and leave it at that? I find that a little too abrupt, but I’m also not sure how to elaborate on it without it turning into a long spiel. I think it’s easier for guys, though, because my dad usually says something like “I’m not shaking your hand out of respect for you” with a broad smile. So then the woman feels dignified instead of miffed or embarrassed. But I’m still struggling with the explanation to give without offending the other person. Any ideas? 🙂

    • qatheworld says:

      Yeah, the verbal explanation for me is always the most awkward point (hence my attempt to make it unnecessary or allow them time to figure it out 😀 lol). As for me, if my tactics result in the person asking if I don’t shake hands, I just confirm that with a smile. If they appear miffed or they’re still trying to shake hands despite the non-verbals, I say something like “I don’t actually shake hands with the opposite sex. It’s part of my religion. But it’s really nice to meet you!”

      I’m racking my brain but I can’t recall a time when a guy demanded further explanation than this, usually they’re kind of embarrassed at that point. If they did though I would probably follow up with an explanation with more specifics about modesty and not having contact between unrelated men and women. I think most people understand that unwanted touching is inappropriate just not in the context of shaking hands, to them this is an exception. Sometimes they ask what religion I am, and I say I am muslim. I actually *don’t* usually lead with, “In Islam, blah blah blah” unless it’s somebody I already know. The reason for this is, when I’ve done this in the past about Islamic practices, I often get a response from the other person about how they knew a particular muslim who didn’t do whatever I’m espousing, so then it gets into a discussion about that. I also want to make it clear in my response that I choose to follow these rules in Islam, not make out that “I wish I could but Islam prohibits me” since many people have the misconception that women are somehow being compelled to follow Islam instead of doing so because they want to :).

      I might tack on, “I don’t mean to be impolite” or something if the person looks really offended, but it rarely has come to that. I also try to be very pleasant, smiley, and enthusiastic in my verbal greeting and during this discussion, to counteract the impression that the lack of handshake is a snub. I can’t say this goes smoothly and doesn’t cause me anxiety, especially because I don’t really want to give a bad impression of Islam, but it usually doesn’t got as badly as I anticipate 😛 However, I’m definitely open to suggestions of other phrasings or what has worked for other people, as I’m sure it could stand to be improved. If I was a comedian something funny would probably ease the embarrassment 😛 lol but unfortunately I haven’t managed something like that!

  4. Muslim Mummy says:

    I think more people realise about the hand shaking problem nowadays. A number of times where I worked, someone would come in and shake hands with everyone but not me as they were aware themselves that I didn’t want to do it. It was more kind of like a nod in my direction instead.

    • qatheworld says:

      Yes, I think you are right, as I’ve had some people even comment “you don’t shake hands, do you” or something like that, which does take the burden off a bit. However, it’s still a bit of an issue sometimes, it seems to be easier to avoid in groups. When it’s one-on-one, it is hard to avoid, and that is more often when I forget and stick my hand out without suppressing it, especially if it’s unexpected (which unfortunately happened fairly recently). I guess if there is a group and they’re going around shaking everyone’s hands, I’m more prepared because I can anticipate it coming and prepare myself 😛 lol.

  5. shereen says:

    assalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh, RAMADAN KAREEM and early EID MUBAREK to all!!

    here is the problem i have when it comes to us muslims and handshaking between the sexes. i am not aware of anything within islam that explicitly states that unrelated men and women can’t shake hands. can anyone offer qur’anic verses or AUTHENTIC, credible hadith on this topic? i know that the prophet (pbuh) made it a habit not to touch women, but it has been reported that women did pull on his arm, etc, and he did not have a problem with that. generally speaking, men should keep their hands to themselves so as not to molest women, but handshaking is not in this category of molestation. so, can anyone provide authentic evidence for not being allowed to shake hands of the opposite sex?

    i really wish muslims would not make false or incorrect statements about islam like “i can’t shake your hand b/c of my religion”. muslims, unfortunately, have claimed something was or was not islaimc based on no evidence or weak evidence or downright false evidence. if a muslim woman or man does not wish to shake the hand of the opposite sex OUT OF PERSONAL COMFORT, then he/she should just say so, but not falsely/incorrectly attach islam to it. (same thing with the niqab–it is NOT islamically mandated at all, but muslims falsely claim that it is. if a woman personally feels comfortable wearing the niqab, then she should simply state as much and leave islam out of it. guess what? there are non-muslims out there who wear islamic hijab and niqab, but not for religious reasons–they do it b/c they just like it.)

    actually, what i think some muslims might find ironic is that in the west, people are more understanding and accepting when one does something out of personal comfort than for religious reasons, since free individual will reigns supreme. if i say “i like dressing modestly b/c personally it makes me feel more comfortable”, people are more open to that than saying “i must wear hijab b/c my religion says so” as then people think the individual has no personal freedom and is being forced against their own will–something that is against modern-day western concepts. so, if a muslim woman does not feel comfortable shaking other men’s hands, she should simply state that without dragging islam into it. yes, by the way, there has been at least one fatwa issued from muslim-majority country that states that shaking hands with the opposite sex is fine and not haraam. so, i don’t believe that it’s an opinion only out of norway.

    on an interesting note, this issue actually came to the public eye briefly after a couple of muslim brothers were featured on the t.v. reality show, “amazing race” (on nbc). they did not shake the female host’s hand and she asked why. they stated that it was due to their religion (islam). so, apparently that resulted in a buzz online at some website where they discussed this further (ie, why muslim men don’t shake women’s hands, etc). one post in response was made by a gentleman and i *think* he may have been u.s. american, but i can’t be sure, and he wrote the following (and i am paraphrasing here):

    “Some will have forgotten what the protocol for handshaking is in western business etiquette. In western culture, a man must always reach out his hand to another man and give him a firm shake. This is obligatory. However, a man should never reach out his hand to a woman unless she reaches out her hand to him first. If she reaches out her hand to him, he should then take it and shake her hand; if she does not, then he should not reach out his hand to her.”

    i was actually very surprised to read this as i have been raised in the west (england and the usa) since i was a 1 year old and had never heard of this before. so, i am not sure how old this western business handshaking protocol is, but i found it to be fascinating. this western business etiquette leaves the woman in control and she decides whether a man can touch her or not. although i personally have no qualms whatsoever shaking other men’s hands, perhaps we should gently remind our western counterparts about this protocol so that there is greater understanding on both sides.

    ((another tidbit: in victorian-era england, the protocol was for a man to always take a woman’s GLOVED hand and kiss it upon greeting her. that was normal and accepted and expected cultural practice; however, kissing the UNGLOVED hand of an unrelated woman was considered scandalous.))

    so, in any event, my point is that i wish muslims would not overreach in stating something is or is not islamic when there is no (credible) evidence. Allah(swt) reminds us in the qur’an not to make up lies about our deen and not to state “this is halal and this is haraam” when God did not make those distinctions.

    and Allah knows best. wa assalaam.

    • qatheworld says:

      Wa alaikum essalam, thanks for your reply. A lot of points to cover here! Well, first off as I mentioned in my post and other follow-up comments, I’m aware that there are some schools of thought that consider a handshake between a man and a woman as perfectly fine in Islam, or at least that avoiding it causes more harm than good… I’m not sure which fatwa specifically you mention about it, but I have read more than one that says this. However, a fatwa doesn’t really compel me one way or the other, it is merely an interpretation in my mind. Others believe that unnecessary physical touching between men and women, including handshakes, should be avoided. I don’t think this translates to squirming out of or recoiling from any incidental touch, or not assisting someone, etc, simply avoiding it unnecessarily without going to extremes.

      I only mentioned this briefly in my original post since my point really wasn’t to convince people one way or the other, simply to give some ideas of dealing with the handshake issue. I know some muslims don’t follow this practice, and in fact I’ve had more than one muslim man try to shake my hand :P. But I definitely avoid shaking hands as part of my religion, not simply because it makes me uncomfortable, so I don’t see anything wrong in saying so. It made me uncomfortable before I converted to Islam as well, in many situations, but I felt compelled to do it because of the societal expectations that it was rude not to, and I try not to be rude to people unnecessarily. However, if I feel that there is a strong reason to do or not to do something, then perceived rudeness is not an excuse for not following Islam. However, I try to mediate it to not cause unnecessary negative feelings.

      The point I mentioned in step 3 I think relates to your quote about the gentlemanly conduct, however, I think it’s little practiced these days. While there are some people like the one who advised me who are aware that it’s “proper” for a man to initiate a handshake with another man, but not required for ladies (as you’ll also find in old books of etiquette), most people no longer seem to follow this at least here in the US, perhaps in an attempt to be treated equitably with men. At any rate I was certainly taught about handshaking early on and to give “a firm handshake while looking someone in the eye” and didn’t learn about the supposed separate rules for ladies until much later.

      I elaborated more on this in my other comments, but I do try to mention it being part of my religion because that is the true explanation for why I’m not shaking hands… not because I’m excessively germophobic or something. At the same time, I avoid saying “I have to do this because of my religion” about anything. When any Islamic question comes up, I definitely phrase things to emphasize that I choose to do that because of my religion, be it hijab, not shaking hands, not drinking alcohol, etc. It’s not “I can’t drink because I’m muslim,” because the reason I don’t drink is because I *choose* to follow the guidelines Allah has given, and I believe them to be correct. I don’t feel myself “forced” to follow anything, it’s my own choice to do so. Phrasing it the other way sounds almost apologetic, and implies that I would if I could but I am prevented, and there’s already quite enough assumption about that going on regarding how I choose to dress… most people, including other muslims, assume that my non-existent husband has something to do with my hijab, which is not the case. However it would also not be accurate to say merely “I just prefer to keep my hair covered” without further explanation, because the reason I wear hijab is not only out of modesty but because I wish to follow Allah’s guidance. As you mentioned niqab, while I don’t believe it’s mandatory myself, I don’t see anything wrong with a sister who does believe it is mandatory asserting that it is part of her religion if someone asks her why she is wearing it. There are also some I know who choose to wear niqab as part of their religious practice of Islam without believing it is mandatory and are happy to explain that.

      Some of the relevant hadiths which guide those who believe in avoiding handshaking between the opposite sex include the following. Even though the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) took the oath of allegiance from men by hand, one hadith asserts that he did not touch the hand of women while taking the same oath:
      ” It was narrated from ‘Urwah that ‘Aa’ishah told him about the bay’ah (oath of allegiance) given by the women: “The hand of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) never touched the hand of any woman. When he accepted the oath of allegiance from a woman, he would accept her words and then say, ‘Go, for you have sworn your allegiance.’”(Narrated by Muslim, 1866). ”

      Another hadith uses analogy to discourage touching a non-mahram woman in general:
      “The hadeeth of Ma’qal ibn Yassaar (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘If one of you were to be struck in the head with an iron needle, it would be better for him than if he were to touch a woman he is not allowed to.” (Reported by al-Tabaraani; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 5045).”

      In another more succinct statement specific to handshaking:
      “It was narrated that Umaymah the daughter of Raqeeqah said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “I do not shake hands with women.” Narrated by al-Nasaa’i (4181) and Ibn Maajah, 2874; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2513.”

      There are other hadiths which indicate the benefits of shaking hands in greeting in general, but do not address specifically shaking hands between men and women, however, if the above hadith are taken into consideration, this would only discourage shaking hands between non-mahram men and women. However, others could take the general permissiveness of shaking hands to mean that it is okay in spite of these hadiths, or the authenticity of the hadiths or the meaning of them could be disputed.

      I did not state that shaking hands was haram, as we know there are many permissible qualities of shaking hands, and I am well aware of the dangers of calling something haram when it is not haram. However, if one follows the above hadiths and considers them as sunnah example, then a man not shaking hands with women would be following the sunnah of the prophet pbuh. While these hadiths put the burden on the man not shaking hands with the woman, and I feel there is evidence to support not shaking hands, as a woman I feel obliged to do my part to avoid this as well. I certainly cannot claim I am always successful, sometimes I end up in this situation and I respond to a handshake and then I feel bad, but I move forward and try to remember my tips. For others who prefer to avoid shaking hands following their understanding of the prophet’s (pbuh) example, hopefully these tips may be of use as well. There are many issues in Islam on which different opinions exist, which I think we can choose to follow or not without establishing if they are “haram” or not, as what is haram is limited to a very few about which clear statements exist, and even on those there are sometimes different opinions or extenuating circumstances. Indeed many things we avoid are not haram. And many other things, we choose to do as part of our religion and following the example of the prophet pbuh, despite the fact that not to do them would be permissible.

      Personally, I have certainly had men put more into a handshake than a simple courtesy greeting, and I think the touch of the hand can be endued with many feelings other than simply greeting, for good or ill. In all other parts of western society it’s generally accepted that another person should not touch someone of the opposite sex without permission, except in necessity, whether or not this is openly stated. I think we are at a point where it’s generally acknowledged that people have a right not to be touched. So why is the handshake an exception, and why make it an exception? If I were in an area where I was expected to kiss a man on the cheek in greeting due to local custom, I would not do that either. I do not think the handshake truly it is an exception, and most people are understanding about it, in fact from my experience I think they are even more understanding about it being part of my religious beliefs than me simply not wanting to be touched. Most people do not seek to offend by unwanted touch, and offering an explanation may even help them learn and not make the same mistake with someone else, avoiding embarrassment for both parties.

      • shereen says:

        salamaat, and thanx! for the reply.

        thank you for providing the hadiths. the question i now have about them is whether our esteemed scholars categorized them as sahih, or what their authenticity is, but i do appreciate you listing them. it inspired me to research further. what i did find is the opinions of the four madhabs, who all agreed that “touching” a non-mahram is not allowed; but i also found a detailed discussion on the subject matter, which does not put this issue to rest. soooo, it looks like this issue is not resolved as there are different understandings of what the word “touch” means and the intentions, etc. (i am beginning to get the idea that b/c there is so much contention about this topic, it is a minor issue in islamic fiqh and not a major or root issue, but people are making such a huge deal out of it.) there is another hadith that states that the prophet (pbuh) actually did indeed shake women’s hands, but he did not shake their bare hands–he used some fabric when shaking women’s hands. apparently some accept this hadith as weak/da’if; but apparently there is sahih hadith to support the claim that the prophet (pbuh) did shake women’s hands for their allegiance (see link below) and that other women in medinah, as i mentioned earlier, would take his hand or his arm and lead him when they wanted to discuss a matter with him.

        the following opinion is by sheikh qaradawi, who is respected by some but apparently not by others: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/islam-studies/faqs-and-fatwas/shaking-hands-with-a-non-mahram-dr-yusuf-al-qaradawi/

        there is also this opinion by shk. abdullah bin bayyah: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/islam-studies/faqs-and-fatwas/shaking-hands-with-a-non-mahram-sh-bin-bayyah/ and http://www.islamopediaonline.org/fatwa/it-permissible-men-and-women-occasionally-shake-hands

        i now publicly stand corrected about the existence of evidence on handshaking, but it looks like it is not definitive and this issue has not been resolved, as the issue is whether one is touching a woman in a sexual manner or in fear of sexual desire or not, etc. (also, some muslims strongly believe that a woman’s face and hands are part of her awrah, so, following their logic, they would believe that one cannot touch those parts that they believe should be covered anyway.)

        just to clarify, my original post was actually NOT directed at you, so, i am sorry if you thought i was criticizing or attacking you, as i was not. my post was addressed generally to the muslim ummah, as some muslims always resort to the simple one-liners that either do not really explain our islamic values or are completely false. for example, when asked by a non-muslim teacher why her muslim pupil must fast during ramadan, a response from a muslim parent was “we have to b/c our religion says so”–not very helpful or instructive at all. also, my analogy of the niqab. yes, i understand that some muslims who wear the niqab strongly believe that it is part of their religious practice, but in reality it really is not islamic and has no basis in islam. i am not saying that a person (man or woman) can’t practice niqab, but that they should not say they are practicing it for “religious reasons” when, in this case, no religious reasons exist. some muslims may “interpret” whatever they wish, but there is simply nothing in islam–qur’an or authentic hadiths–that even suggests that niqab is mandatory.

        when it comes to the issue of handshaking, if asked why some muslims don’t shake hands of the opposite sex, my response would be:

        “In Islam, it is not appropriate for a man to touch a non-related woman as men are supposed to keep their hands to themselves. This way a woman is not molested/touched in an inappropriate manner. However, this doesn’t just benefit a woman, it can also benefit a man so that he is not falsely accused of inappropriate behavior.”

        that is how i would explain it in order for them to see the wisdom of islam and how it actually helps to empower women. sometimes one has to invest a bit of time and effort to explain islamic values for clear understanding. …i’m not sure if other muslims (not you) are unable or unwilling to invest that time and effort of articulation.

        i do not believe that the analogy of handshaking is the same as with hijab or alcohol or pork or gambling, as there is very clear and definitive evidence that these things are either absolutely MANDATORY (hijab) or absolutely HARAAM (pork, alcohol, gambling). when it comes to the greeting of handshaking, it doesn’t seem to be clear that it is absolutely haraam. hence the point i was trying to make that one should not say that something is haraam in islam when it is not–perhaps makruh, but makruh is not the same as haraam (and that is why i initially suggested that in such cases to state that one does not prefer to shake hands instead of claiming that it is haraam). however, if something IS haraam or is mandatory, then a lie is not being said against our deen, and that is the part that bothers me the most. for example, there are women in niqab and others who claim that she cannot reveal her face to any non-hahram man. that is simply untrue and baseless and an opinion has already been made that if a man in authority (such as a police officer) in the course of his duties must identify people he comes in contact with and he comes in contact with a niqabi woman, she actually MUST obey his order to remove her face veil as she actually has no right to refuse his order/instruction/command (the fatwa goes on to state that he can’t ask her to remove any other part of her body including her hair, only her face and only in the course of his duties, meaning he is sincere in his intentions and not wanting to harass the woman, etc). so, this ruling states that a muslim woman really does not have the religious right to cover her face, as islam does not mandate it, yet there are muslims who go around stating that it is mandatory and that she cannot reveal her face to non-mahram men, not even to a male police officer. so, that is really what i was getting at generally speaking.

        there are also muslim men who state that the reason they do not shake women’s hands is b/c they don’t want to break their wudu. based on what i have read, a) there is no evidence that indicates this is the reason why the prophet (pbuh) may not have shaken women’s hands and b) this shows that these men are downright lazy–i mean, how difficult is it to make wu’du before each salat? i personally may have to do wu’du several times a day, so, i don’t think it’s such a burden for a man to renew his wu’du before each of his salat if he shook a woman’s hand, if that is the reason he is claiming.

        however, if there is evidence that a man should not shake a non-mahram’s hands for fear of sexual desire, or even if he feels desire when it comes to one of his mahrams (ie, sister, wet nurse, aunt, niece), then i do understand the ruling and if one were to cite those pieces of evidence, then i understand where others are coming from much more clearly now than i did before.

        the issue for me is not whether one wants to or one doesn’t want to do something. my main and biggest issue when it comes to muslim behavior is EVIDENCE and sound fiqh. a big reason for why the muslim ummah is in such a disastrous state is b/c we have forgotten our rich traditions of islamic jurisprudence with all of its nuances and intricacies. people today often cite hadiths that have already been ruled as apocryphal to justify some action, or they are not aware of the many different opinions on an issue, or they do not realize that, for example, just b/c a hadith is listed in one of the sahih hadith books, it is NOT automatically necessarily accepted in fiqh. there is a lot of history that we modern-day muslims are either not aware of or have forgotten, and that, i believe, is a major cause of us having gone astray from our original, pure deen and ending up as backwater. if there is evidence (and in this case of handshaking, there seems to be), then that’s fine to cite religious reasons; but, generally speaking, if there is no credible, authentic evidence for something, then one should not cite religious reasons lest one end up saying a kidaba with our lisaan about our deen, which is very very sinful according to the qur’an(!).

        and Allah (swt) knows best.

      • qatheworld says:

        I think you cite a lot of important reasons why it’s worthwhile to research questionable topics and look into the evidence behind them, whether or not any scholars have made a statement one way or the other, and avoid making statements about what is haram. I personally don’t choose to follow a particular scholar or school of thought, though some make their decision based on that and the research that has gone into it, but regardless, it is useful to know the evidence and how it has been differently interpreted by researchers on any religious issue to inform one’s own thinking as well.

        The handshaking issue, like many others, is one that has a variety of different opinions and evidence pointing one way or another. It’s also one reason that I, like you, dislike the trend of stating something is haram or not when it is not 100% clear. But even if something is not 100% clear I think we can should seek knowledge of the issue and make judgements about it as best we can. As a practical matter, there are a few issues that addressed very specifically, and there are huge swaths of life about which one has to make generalized comparisons because it is not specified. I think this is a mercy to the ummah, because it is not supposed to be difficult to follow Islam, nor require every person to have a lifetime of study of each issue in order to comprehend it or live their life. It’s this overall concept, and the idea of taking the middle road and not going to extremes, which the prophet (pbuh) endorsed, that leads me to think that we don’t necessarily have to have a 100% declaration of haram or halal on every action, nor is it necessarily useful for scholars to issue fatwas about that.

        To illustrate, while the handshake issue has been much examined, suppose you were to include other types of touch between non mahrams? What about a “friendly hug” between non-mahrams? What about a “kiss between non-mahrams with no desire”? What about the custom of taking the other person’s hand and placing it on your head as I’ve encountered in some cultures? What about snuggling up next to someone without touching skin? Or on the other end, what about taking someone’s arm to guide them? What about helping a person get on a riding animal? What incidental touch while handing someone an item? What about rescuing someone from a fire? Etc.etc. These are all things which, while you can probably think what you would do in such cases, would be difficult to find “definitive evidence” one way or another about that *specific* situation, and there are infinite variations which could come up which someone could dispute one way or another. Personally, I don’t think the answer to practicing our religion is to have specific examples of all these behaviors declared one way or another by a scholar. I think we have general guidelines to follow in Islam which will guide our behavior in these situations and others that may come up. I may not interpret those the same as every other person in Islam, but I think many people will fall into a middle way and this is the kind of example I see in the prophet Mohammed pbuh.

        Sometimes people forget that the other muslims at the time of the prophet Mohammed pbuh were not perfect either, and they often did things that were downright impermissible, but the prophet often dealt with them kindly and not harshly while guiding them. So I cannot follow the camp of those who find any touch of any kind even to assist someone to be impermissible, and I know there are some who really do fall into that, perhaps the same ones who think their wudu will be broken in all sorts of situations for which no evidence exists. Nor can I agree with those who say cuddling up and kissing a non-mahram is perfectly acceptable since there’s no specific statement about that (especially if they take “touch” to refer specifically to sexual relations, which some do). I am also sure that many people will draw the “acceptable in Islam” line in a different place than I will because of these debatable guidelines in some areas of life, but I think that is okay.

        I think the usefulness of looking into the handshake, versus all these other examples of touch, is that it is one form of touch that is generally deemed permissible and expected in the US and similar cultures. On the other hand many of the other forms of touch that I wouldn’t be comfortable with might be considered acceptable by non-muslims, yet they generally would not be imposed on me with the expectation that declining would be rude. A man who does not know me, and with whom I have not established that forms of touch are welcome, is unlikely to impose another form of touch besides the handshake on me without general societal disapproval. Even in the case of the handshake, it’s more of an offering, the pressure to accept is via expectations vs someone actually grabbing you. However, the repercussions of improperly declining the handshake can be very negative.

        While I think your verbal explanation of why not to shake hands is accurate, I don’t think it counteracts the perceived rudeness of declining the handshake, so I probably wouldn’t use that exact verbiage (though I don’t have a set script, I do tend to modify what I say depending on the circumstance, if I say anything). Based on my experience, using terms like “molested” or “keeping hands to oneself” to someone who has just offered a friendly and “normal” greeting (perhaps your future boss in a job interview) probably wouldn’t come off too well :P. So, I do try to keep it light and friendly in the moment, in the spirit in which the gesture was given, while at the same time trying to make accurate statements if I make any statement. Since some of my goals are: 1) To practice my religion as best I can 2) Not to be unnecessarily rude or negative in doing so, an overall goal of the “handshake avoidance” plan is to avoid embarrassing the other person too much in the process, even if that means they don’t get a full scholarly explanation at that moment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it breaks down somewhere along the line, but the other person quite often connects the dots on their own.

      • shereen says:

        ameen. agreed. =:-)

        sorry for the confusion. my ‘script’ is not for on the spot explanations, it’s for when someone asks “by the way, i discovered that muslim men don’t shake women’s hands–why is that?”. so, more for an educational moment.

        wa assalaam.

  6. shereen says:

    by the way, for those who are inclined not to shake hands, another strategy you may wish to consider using is to keep your hands clasped behind your back. when someone wants to reach out his/her hand to you, he/she will notice that your hands are behind your back and may not even bother to reach their hand out to you. just an idea…

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