Local Muslims, Scholars Weigh In On Shaking Hands with the Opposite Sex

Local Muslims, Scholars Weigh In On Shaking Hands with the Opposite Sex

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DEARBORN—Many Muslim women who wear the hijab will tell you they have experienced that awkward moment. A man will reach out his hand to greet her in a professional setting, and she will have to make an impulsive decision on whether she should reciprocate the gesture.

For Muslims living in the U.S., greeting the opposite sex by shaking hands could create a dilemma. Many Muslims believe that shaking hands with members of the opposite sex is not permissible, unless the two individuals are blood-related or married.

While this Islamic teaching has been enforced in the religion for hundreds of years, in modern day society, some Muslims will make exceptions to adapt to their westernized settings.

"I've been put in awkward situations myself, I know it can get uncomfortable," said Noha Beydoun, a local Dearborn resident.

Beydoun, now in her mid-20s, made her journey to Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimmiage to Mecca, when she was 19. Growing up in Dearborn, she says she would always greet the opposite sex by putting her hand on her heart. However, after graduating college and entering a professional setting, she concluded that shaking hands with a male may be permissible at times.

"I'm not a religious scholar, this is my own personal opinion. I know it's haram to shake hands, but I think it depends on the context. Because we live in the U.S., we can scare people away from this amazing, sweet, welcoming religion by doing something that a Western person is not used to," Beydoun noted.
Beydoun says that she will do her best to avoid a handshake, but if a male reaches out to shake her hand at work, she will have to make a quick determination. Sometimes she will wear gloves prior to showing up to a setting if she knows she is going to be meeting new people.

"Just in case I come across that male who forgets unintentionally, I'll wear a glove to spare him the embarrassment. The intention of this is to protect women but you also don't want to hurt someone's feelings," Beydoun adds.

Another local Muslim woman, Suehaila Amen, says that she has always greeted non-Muslims of the opposite sex with a handshake in a professional setting.

"For the most part when a person puts out their hand, I would always shake in response. I don't have the time while I'm networking to have to explain to somebody why it is I won't shake their hand. Because I know their intention is nothing more than a professional greeting, I will shake hands and keep going."
Amen says that in some instances, if she does have a moment to explain the rules to people, she will do so, but only after shaking their hands. She says it's the best way to avoid offending people while educating them to avoid the mistake in the future.

"It's a very awkward situation when you disrespect someone when they have their hand extended. I believe God is merciful, and I believe he will understand my reasons and that my intentions are not impure. I don't have that fear that God is going to judge me because I shook somebody's hand, when I only did so to not allow a person to have a negative feeling towards me," Amen added.

However, Amen notes that in the last year she has decided to enforce the rule upon herself, after performing the Hajj in 2013. Amen says she no longer wants to shake hands with community members of the opposite sex, because she expects them to already know the rules.

"Since going to Hajj, I've tried my best to avoid it and I find that people get offended. I've had to make a disclaimer where I would say handshaking has to stop. It's been interesting because the Muslim community members have been giving me a headache about it," Amen adds.

The Islamic prohibition against shaking hands with the opposite sex has been a point of debate as of late. The subject has generated discussion on Facebook and even became a point in a recent news report on a local radio station.

Some who have criticized the prohibition note that the rules don't seem to be equally enforced. Muslim women are expected to put their hands on their heart, but Muslim men always seem to get a free pass if they decide to shake hands with the opposite sex.

Others who argue against the practice also tend to point out that the Quran doesn't specifically state that members of the opposite sex shouldn't partake in a handshake.

According to local religious scholars, the first argument is completely false, while the second is technically true.

Some verses in the Quran, along with hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad, touch on the subject of opposite sex interaction from a male's perspective.

One hadith even translates as: "It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is not permissible to you."

Imam Abdul Latif Berry, leader of a religious authority in the U.S., says the only time members of the opposite sex should come in contact is when one is facing hardship and needs assistance.

"They shouldn't be shaking hands at all. There are very exceptional situations, like if a woman is facing hardship. If a woman needs to solve a health problem with a doctor or needs to be taken to the hospital, then it becomes an exception," Berry says. "At that point, it becomes very necessary to touch a woman because she needs help in an emergency. If there is no female to help that woman, then she has a religious excuse to touch a man or to let the man touch her."

Berry references 24:30-31 of the Quran, which forbid women and men to look at each other with desire. Most religious scholars will use these verses as a reference point to conclude that if looking at each other is unacceptable, then touching is too.

Berry says there are a number of ways for women to avoid touching a man, including wearing gloves or placing hands behind the body to showcase that they are not looking to greet with a handshake.
"According to the etiquette of the U.S., usually a man doesn't use his hand immediately unless the woman starts to use her hand first. This helps Muslim women. If the Muslim woman puts her hands together, behind her back, the other person will more than likely not shake her hand," Berry adds.
Imam Mohammad Elahi, leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, references a practice by Prophet Muhammad where women would accept their allegiance to Islam by dipping their hands in a container filled with water.

"Although the Quran doesn't exactly say 'don't shake hands,' people have to realize there are so many things that are not in the Quran, but the concept and principles are there. The rules are not described in details, but the rules are described through the prophet in light of the Quran," Elahi says.

Elahi adds that most Islamic scholars will agree that it is forbidden for members of the opposite sex to touch each other physically unless they are married or related. However, he adds that some scholars have adapted to modern times and have been flexible in regards to certain situations.

"There are some scholars who have come up with new rulings on this matter. Based on the new approach among some of our scholars, shaking hands is permissible under a necessary situation, if there is an urgency to do so," Elahi adds. "For example if you are called for a job interview and by not shaking hands you are in risk of losing your job, that can be understandable. If not shaking someone's hands may cause hardship and critical condition, then it is permissible to do so."

However, Elahi notes that this modern ruling should only be practiced in a professional setting. He adds that on a personal level, a man and woman should not come in physical contact with each other unless there is an emergency or life threatening situation.

Both imams encourage Muslims to educate Americans who may not be familiar with the religion's customs and laws, because most of the time they will be receptive to learning more about the culture and religion.

"The key words here are urgency, necessity and emergency. It is in the heart and conscience of the individual, in addition to the public customary, that judges whether something is necessary or not," Elahi states. "Islam is a religion of reason and religion of truth, respect and love. Having all these key concepts in your mind, you can make a better judgment when you deal with a situation like shaking one's hand."