If a Muslim chooses not to shake your hand, don’t be offended. It has nothing to do with how clean you are, or what religion you may or may not subscribe to. It’s because, for them, they believe they should not touch anyone of the opposite gender, with the exception of immediate family members. This is a sign of modesty and humility. It’s also a sign of respect, that nobody should touch another except for those closest to them. If you’re meeting a Muslim for the first time, don’t extend your hand for a hand-shake, wait to see if they do it first. Some do, some don’t.
Many of you reading this blog have probably encountered that awkward social norm of shaking hands with men, especially if you live and work in the West.
It’s a social norm, especially in Western society, and is used as an introduction and even goodbye. It’s used as a symbol of trust (“let’s shake on it”) and is used to judge people, especially for interviews. As Muslim girls, it can be very tricky navigating this social norm, especially when it’s a gesture that is meant in goodwill.
As a Muslim growing up in the West, this was (and still is!) one of the most tricky situations that I would encounter that I had no idea how to deal with.
Before I give you some tips on how to handle the situation, let me back up and first and talk about the expectation of men and women in Islam. It’s a generally agreed upon rule that men and women must not interact physically with non-mehrams (those they aren’t related or married to), and this includes shaking hands. Thus, many women agree that they will not extend the hand outward to a male who is not their mehram. But what about when someone extends a hand out to you?
Humour can only be used sometimes though. In all situations, I would recommend honesty; just say, “I”m sorry, but in my faith, I can’t shake hands with the opposite gender.” You can word it however you like, and in whichever way you feel comfortable. It’s simple and straightforward and honest.
But it’s also quite bold. Some of you (myself included) might have difficulty saying this, especially as you meet someone for the first time. You might be nervous (especially if it’s a job interview) and you might not be able to word it correctly, and so instead of fumbling with the words, you just do it. You shake the hand that’s extended to you.
I’m going to be honest here: I do it. And I feel awful about it. In my mind, I know it’s wrong but when put in that situation, I don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. So when my mind starts racing in those 2.5 seconds after a man extends his hand to me, the only thing I do is put my hand out too in a panic. And I feel so guilty about it afterwards.
The reason why I’m sharing my personal story with you all is to say that I relate. I get it. I totally understand the pressures of living in a Western society, and wanting to please people and also be true to your own beliefs. It’s hard.
No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, some of them repeatedly. So let’s try to have the best of intentions and strive to be the best.
Hope you found this useful. And if you have any suggestions or ideas for this topic, please feel free to comment below. May Allah guide us all.