Shaking Hands with a Non-Mahram: How to Avoid?

The Islamic view is very clear when it comes to having any sort of physical contact (particularly skin to skin) between the opposite genders. For most practicing Muslims, avoiding physical contact with a namahram may not be super hard, however what does get to many is the dreadful handshake. In the Western society, this is a norm and often times an expectation, yet Islam’s take on it is that one is not to shake the hands of the opposite gender. How can one avoid shaking hands of a member of the opposite gender when the situation arises? Unfortunately, there is no set-in-stone answer. Each scenario may require the individual to improvise on the spot or just be ready with solid reasoning in order to avoid the apparently negative reactions one may get after that.

To start off, we have numerous narrations on this issue though one shall suffice for this post.

وعن عدة من أصحابنا ، عن أحمد بن محمد ، عن عثمان بن عيسى ، عن سماعة بن مهران قال : سألت أبا عبدالله عليه السلام عن مصافحة الرجل المرأة ، قال : لا يحل للرجل أن يصافح المرأة إلا امرأة يحرم عليه أن يتزوجها اخت أو بنت أو عمة أو خالة أو بنت اخت أو نحوها ، وأما المرأة التي يحل له أن يتزوجها فلا يصافحها إلا من وراء الثوب ولا يغمز كفها.

And from a number of our companions from Ahmad b. Muhammad from `Uthman b. `Isa from Sama`a b. Mihran.  He said: I asked Abu `Abdillah about the shaking of the hands of a man and a woman.  He said: It is not allowed for the man to shake the hand of the woman except the woman whom he is forbidden to marry, a sister or a daughter or a paternal aunt or a maternal aunt or the daughter of a sister (niece) or like it.  And as to the woman whom it is allowed for him to marry, then he does not shake her hand except from behind the garment and he is not to press her palm. [Source #25446]

What do we do at a job interview as a male, where chances are that the person interviewing you will be most likely female? What do we do when we have our first day at work and get introduced to all the employees? It may not even be at a work place – what do we do at universities, schools, company events, industry trade shows, networking events or even at the bank (happened to me!)? Coming from a marketing background, I have had my fair share of handshaking situations arising. Here are a few suggestions that have worked for me and others that may help you as well:

Decline the Handshake – Straight Up

The best suggestion I can give you is that you simply decline. I found that in university and in high school, if this situation arose, there was a lot less at stake. Meaning, this wasn’t an issue that would have caused any hardship, such as losing a job or getting lower marks. Placing your hands on your chest – waiting for the awkward look on the opposite gender’s face – and then kindly explaining them your behaviour would get the point across and that would really be the end of it. If it wasn’t the end of it, then this is also one of the situations where you may have an opportunity to actually explain why you are refusing the handshake. You’d be surprised to know that some individuals will actually highly respect you for your actions.

During my university’s convocation ceremony, there was a whole line of individuals one had to shake hands with and while I was around #400 on the list of students, I kept analyzing the situation as I saw each student before me go one by one. As my turn came, I only kept telling myself that 5 seconds of selling my nafs to the Shaytan will not be worth the lifetime of guilt I’ll have to live with. As I walked across, I simply put my hands on my chest, smiled and walked swiftly to the next person in line. Though it looked very odd as I shook hands with one person and then put my hands on my chest for the other (the line-up was 1 male, 1 female, 1 male, 1 female), it really was only a matter of few seconds and then the ordeal was over. If you really can’t decline a handshake for whatever reason, the only other practical option is wearing gloves. This works particularly for females (because for some reason it’s less awkward to see them with gloves inside a convocation hall than a male). I have seen a female sister wear gloves during her convocation ceremony and she had no issues with it. What one has to realize is that the time-period that all this takes place within is so short that it will be over before you even know it.

Cough a Few Times

The purpose here is to avoid sinning by shaking hands with the opposite gender. What has worked for many is that they simply say that they are sick so their hands may be contagious – therefore they refuse to shake the hands of another person portraying to be looking out for their health. However, to make sure that this method is actually legitimate (meaning that you aren’t lying if you aren’t truly sick), actually cough a few times beforehand while covering your mouth. This way technically speaking, you will not be lying because you did cough and do therefore have some germs on your hands. This method, where you aren’t actually lying, but yet are also concealing the real reason (for shaking their hand) is called Toriya. You can read up more about it here – scroll down to What is Toriya?

Improvise

Sometimes the situation creeps up on you so fast that you barely have time to think. Be a little creative and improvise. Once at an industry trade show, I was with a Catholic friend from work and we came across a past female employee who used to work with us. As she approached to hug my friend, I knew where she would be heading next. I quickly turned around slightly and started “checking out” one of the stalls that was there. Totally ignoring the situation at the time, as my friend carried on a conversation with her. Perhaps it was only a half a minute or so later that I turned around and casually faded myself into the discussion – at which point it seemed as if I was always part of the conversation and nothing odd had even happened.

Another thing you could do is grab something in your hands – papers, books, anything really to show that it will not be convenient for you to shake hands.

Impersonate the Sunnah

Keep a beard (if you don’t have one already), perhaps wear an Islamic cap and thobe if and where practical. I have noticed that just looking & behaving like a Muslim has prevented such awkward situations from arising. This is not just true for a handshake, but also helps in general in regards to how others perceive and treat you.

Despite the few tried and tested methods available, no one is saying that refusing a handshake is just as easy as talking about it. It is a lot easier said than done. Some might just slip during that last moment and give in; doing sincere tawbah is the next step in that case. If you aren’t used to this already, it may take a few successful attempt before one starts feeling comfortable with this decision. Having a strong understanding of the reasons why we refuse to shake hands with a namahram will also help you combat any subsequent remarks and make you feel less nervous. On the contrary, many thoughts still come into our minds and we try to determine ways through which we can find loopholes in fiqh and justify sinning. A rather detailed question was sent in to the offices of the maraja by a member of Shia Chat who explained some of the concerns and justifications that an average Muslim might have. I myself at times thought that this situation perhaps could be categorized under dissimulation, and this brother fortunately made mention of that in his question. The answers however, were pretty straightforward.

While I understand that shaking hands with the opposite sex is not allowed in our religion (fiqh), the muslims living in non-muslim countries (as minorities) sometimes confront difficult situations. For example, if they have an interview, the employer (of opposite sex) may greet them by extending hands (shake) which is seen as a normal & a civil response in that society. A practising muslim sometimes faces a dillema in such a situation because there are two types of responses which are equally valid in terms of mannerism and code of conduct as per Islamic teachings. First (and the best) option for a muslim is to humbly apologise to the employer for not extending hands in return and try to explain the reason (which is his/her religious belief). This practise is no doubt worth praise because one is giving preference to his/her religious beliefs over the materialistic life. However it is easier said than done and sometimes one cannot chose the first option. Instead, one has to select the second option which is to understand the intention & motive of the employer behind the act (of shaking hands) – which by the way is to only welcome someone in a professional manner – and thus extend hands in response (with the intention of practising taqiyah) so that one is not seen as an unreasonable and ill-mannered person and that one is not disadvantaged (in the interview process) for openly expressing his/her religious beliefs (something which is not liked in the corporate world in the West). Can you advise whether the second option is acceptable in Islam in certain extenuating circumstances and under taqiyah?

Since Islam is a religion of Justice and since it also focusses on the intentions of human beings, is it possible for us to sometimes practise an un-orthodox act for the purpose of survival in the society we live in?

Replies:

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What methods have worked out for you? Please leave responses in the comments section below.

8 thoughts on “Shaking Hands with a Non-Mahram: How to Avoid?

  • SIMPLY AWESOME,

    I SHALL TRY TO WORK WITH THE TIPS MENTIONED ABOVE.

    I HAVE BEEN EPICALLY FAILING ON THIS NOTION…TIRED A COUPLE OF THINGS…COUGHING SPECIALLY. I GUESS I SHALL STICK WITH THE REFUSAL WITH MY RATIONALE.

    MUCH RESPECTS BRO.

    ALLAH HAFIZ 🙂

  • IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO DIFFICULT TO AVOID SHAKING HANDS WITH OPP SEX, AM A DIPLOMAT & ATTEND SO MUCH MEETINGS,DINNERS AND SORT OF GATHERINGS, HAVING NO OPTION RATHER THAN TO BE A GOOD MUSLIM I’VE FOUND THAT DROPPING SOMETHING TO FALL ON THE GROUND AND PRETENDING TO PICK IT UP ALSO WORK. IT’S REALLY WORKING…

  • I actually asked an HR professional about this who was teaching us a class about work place harassment and specifically sexual harassment.  I noticed she did not offer to shake my hand when I approached her with this question, she was very well informed of how Muslims behave. She knew I was a Muslim because of my beard (hint hint). So anyway, she said make sure you say something like “It is very nice to meet you, and I look forward to working with you. However, for a religious purpose I cannot shake hands with you (or with women, etc).” Make sure you include the part about being happy to meet the person. They need to understand that it is not that you dislike them personally, but rather you are prevented by your beliefs from physical contact with the other gender. I had a co-worker once ask me after I got married if I could shake her hand 🙂 I told her no, but now I can shake my wife’s hand 🙂 She understood from my comment that even my wife could not shake my hand before marriage. Your answer matters as much as your gesture, be smart, make the person in front of you feel respected. For men, you may also need to do a little extra work. Like if you know of an accomplishment of a female co-worker, maybe you need to highlight that to the manager of publicly praise her. Let them know that men respect women in Islam, but we have more restrictions to physical contact.

  • aa wr wb
    ja ikwaan, if you’re having an interview, or you know the situation is going to come up just when you speak to the person who is arranging the interview, tell them that shaking hands with the opposite gender makes you nervous and uncomfortable. don’t say “i dont shake hands with females” because then they might assume that you’re sexist, which may hinder you. just explain to them that it would make you nervous and most people would generally respect your request and avoid any awkward moments when meeting each other inshaAllah.

  • “Hand on chest” worked sometimes with me, but you have to talk loudly, like “nice meeting you”, “happy to see you today”. In addition to beard of course. Now, I am in Japan and it’s very easy. It’s not a practice to handshake (men and women alike!). I don’t either like to do their complete bowing “ruku’u” so I just bow down my head with my back straight up and sometimes hand on chest.

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