Asalamu alaikum warahmatula wabarakatuhu.
I have had conversations with friends and family on how difficult it usually is to avoid a handshake with the opposite gender. It can be awkward. True. It will be different, no doubt which is mostly due to inconsistency amongst us Muslims so of course, people will find it strange in the beginning but nothing will beat the relief knowing you declined to shake hands with the opposite gender be it your manager, business partner or even a family member who is not your mahram only to please your Lord.
Here are few tips and my experience regarding that awkward handshake insha Allah. It was a piece I wrote and shared on Amaliah.com
Questions, Answers, and Tips…
While it is seen as a norm to reciprocate and shake hands in a professional setting here in the west mainly, it is in fact, contrary to what I was taught in Islam when it comes to the opposite gender.
I never prepared myself for the day I would actually conclude an interview, meeting or networking event and be faced with that awkward situation. As usual, some may find it strange.
Here are some questions I have been asked and answers I have previously given regarding the issue. I’ve also added some tips at the end on how to deal with getting out of a handshake!
Q: Don’t let these laws oppress you. Why can’t women shake hands with men?
A: The rule applies to both genders. Muslim men also face the same situation.
Q: But it’s rather barbaric. We are in the 21st century. Why follow silly laws anyway?
A: Umm… as you said, we are in the 21st Century. There is something called freedom of choice and I choose to stand firm in my beliefs.
Q: Some scholars actually say it can be permissible given the situation. Don’t try to make things complicated.
A: Yes! “some scholars” but they are in the minority. I follow the hadeeth of our Prophet actually:
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.
Q: It is just a simple handshake with the opposite sex. It doesn’t mean anything. It is innocent.
A: Well you see, I’m of the stance that in Islam anything that leads to temptation in itself is forbidden but OKAY.
Q: Well I think it is rather disrespectful
A: Your opinion, but to be honest, it actually isn’t! I’ve had meetings with MPs, CEOs, family members, and friends, and all it takes is just a short sentence explaining why in a polite way. In most cases, trust me, they know anyway.
Q: How do you expect to secure a deal or a job at the end of an interview or meeting without concluding it with a handshake?
A: Errr… now that’s the beauty of Islam. One of the pillars of our faith is to believe in the divine preordainment whether good or bad.
We have firm belief that what is written for us shall always be ours. The handshake in between is just one of the many tests in life. Whether you go with it or not, you’ll still get what’s written for you regardless but you’ll either pass the test or fail the test.
Q: It can offend people!
A: Not really. Rather, it gives me the opportunity to educate someone by apologising and explaining that my reasons are not to offend but I am simply following my Islamic teachings. Pleasing Allah always comes first for me.
The first time I refused a handshake from the opposite gender was one of the most awkward situations in my life. I did not plan in advance what to say or what excuse to give as it was unexpected. It was bad as I did not handle the situation well but hey! We learn from our experiences.
Below are some tips and tricks to politely decline a handshake or make the situation less awkward.
1. Avoid ignoring an extended arm. It will seem impolite so don’t leave them hanging!
2. Always explain and be polite! I mean it is nothing personal. “Hi, sorry due to my beliefs, I do not shake hands with the opposite gender”. Always works for me!
3. Depending on the situation, perhaps you can try to focus on something instead. Anything, just make yourself seem preoccupied that will make them not extend their hand.
4. Try putting your hand on your chest. (Never tried it but sounds cool. Good manners are always welcome!)
5. If it is an old friend or a family member whom you have not caught up with for a while, try to tell them in advance. It is your belief and nothing to feel ashamed of.
There you go and remember, it is always best for people to appreciate and understand that you are comfortable with who you are. It is your choice and practising your religion by pleasing your maker brings you joy.
Of course, I am not issuing a fatwa making the issue of a handshake between opposite genders who are not mahrams impermissible. Please find a link below for further reading.
Has anyone ever had an awkward experience or a tip you wish to share?