Why Don't Muslim Men Shake Hands with Women?

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asked May 19, 2015 by admin (4,500 points)

1 Answer

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Summary

Non-verbal gestures and greetings vary across countries, cultures and religions. What is seen as acceptable for one is not necessarily acceptable for another. Muslims not shaking hands with the opposite gender is a simple example of a cultural and religious difference which is easy to respect and accommodate.

It is important to point out that Muslims do not distinguish in this matter between Muslim and non-Muslim people, and the issue is the same for Muslim women as it is for men. Shaking hands is something normal in Islam, for Muslims and non-Muslims, but Islam prohibits non-essential touching and physical contact with a person of the opposite gender, with the exception of certain immediate family members, as a sign of modesty, humility and chastity. In addition, it is a form of respect towards the other person by acknowledging no one has the right to touch them except for their nearest and dearest.

It is also important to note that this practice is not unique to Islam, with a group of adherents to Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths abiding by similar rules. Finally, it should be made clear that when there is a need for touch to occur, this is permitted. For example, if a member of the opposite gender was to faint or experience a seizure, a Muslim would be required to do whatever they could to help them, including touching them, if appropriate.

Full Answer

Non-verbal gestures and greetings vary across countries, cultures, and religions. Bowing, kissing, saluting, touching fingers, tapping shoulders, clasping hands together, shaking fists, and pounding the chest are all gestures used to greet people, both formally and informally, in various countries around the world.

What is seen as acceptable in one culture is not necessarily acceptable in another. For example, the ‘thumbs-up’ gesture is a sign of approval in America, but a sign of obscenity in Iran; and the ‘OK’ gesture is a seen as positive in Australia, but a sign of vulgarity in Brazil.

The refusal of Muslim men and women to shake hands with members of the opposite gender is a contentious issue for many people, not least of all because it contradicts the social norms that are prevalent within Western society today. In some cases, this refusal to shake hands is taken as a personal insult, embarrassing both parties. To better understand why this happens, we need to be aware of a number of things: -

Firstly, Muslims do not distinguish in this matter between shaking the hands of other Muslims and shaking the hands of non-Muslims. It is, therefore, critical to understand that a Muslim man or woman refusing to shake a person’s hand has nothing to do with the fact that they are not Muslim. A Muslim man is just as likely – in many cases, more likely – to refuse to shake the hand of a Muslim woman as he is to refuse to shake the hand of a non-Muslim woman.

Secondly, this is not something that is exclusive to Muslim men. Muslim women are just as likely to refuse to shake hands with men, as Muslim men are with women.

Thirdly, it is not the actual act of shaking hands that Muslims have an issue with. This is in fact an integral part of Muslim etiquette, which strengthens ties of brotherhood, sisterhood, and friendship. The Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “When two Muslims meet and shake hands with each other, both of them will have their sins forgiven (by Allah) before they depart” [Abu Dawud]. Shaking hands is also the Islamic norm in greeting non-Muslims of the same gender.

Specifically, the refusal relates to any physical contact with a person of the opposite gender. This is a strict prohibition in Islam, with the exception of the following: -

1. The person’s spouse.

2. The person’s ancestors, including father, mother, and grandparents from both sides.

3. The person’s descendants, including their children and grandchildren.

4. The person’s siblings, including brothers and sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters.

5. The children of the person’s siblings and their descendants, i.e., their nephews and nieces by blood, and any children that those nephews and nieces have.

6. The siblings of the person’s father or mother, i.e, their maternal and paternal uncles and aunts (not including uncles and aunts by marriage).

7. The ancestors of the spouse, including their parents and grandparents.

8. The descendants of the spouse, including their children and grandchildren. from other marriages (in the case of the daughters and granddaughters of the wife, the marriage must be consummated).

9. Ties of breastfeeding. For example, if a person’s aunt used to breast feed them as well as their mother, their aunt becomes like a second mother, and all of her sons become like brothers, and her daughters like sisters etc.

Physical contact with anyone from the opposite gender not mentioned above is strictly prohibited. So, a man would shake his sister’s hand, his aunt’s hand, his niece’s hand, and so on; however, he would not shake his female cousin’s hand, or his uncle’s wife’s hand, or the hand of a female acquaintance, classmate, or work colleague.

This practice of refraining from physical contact is not restricted to Islam, as observant followers of the Jewish faith abide by a specific concept of negiah, which forbids all physical contact with the opposite gender. Likewise, this practice is known among Hindus and Theravada Buddhists. Furthermore, such a custom was previously part of the etiquettes in Western society, as the famous author on etiquettes, Emily Post, wrote: “Gentlemen always shake hands when they are introduced to each other. Ladies rarely do so with gentlemen who are introduced to them; but they usually shake hands with other ladies, if they are standing near together.”

Islam teaches that physical touching of the opposite gender in whatever form, is prohibited as a sign of modesty, humility and chastity. In addition, it is a form of respect towards the other person by acknowledging no one has the right to touch them except for their nearest and dearest.

Haptics (non-verbal communication using touch) is an extremely powerful form of expression. Many experts state that momentary touches such as a handshake or a tap on the back can communicate and generate a wide range of emotions. Jennifer Huwer from the Department of Psychology at Haverford College writes in her thesis on the Effects of Context, Intimacy and Gender on Handshaking:

“Touching breaks through physical boundaries and disturbs personal space. Touch produces high levels of arousal that create powerful associations and evaluations of the toucher…Therefore, specific types of touch in one area of the body – namely, the hand – can be interpreted in several ways.”

As with the majority of religions, Islam has a clear standpoint on intermingling with the opposite gender and other things that lead to a breakdown of inhibitions between two people, stating that any form of intimate relationship, or anything that could lead to the development of such a relationship, should be under virtuous conditions (i.e., those of marriage).

It should also be made clear that when there is a need for touch to occur, this is permitted. For example, if a member of the opposite gender was to faint or experience a seizure, a Muslim would be required to do whatever they could to help them, including touching them, if appropriate.

Finally, every Muslim is responsible for his or her own actions, and is free to choose the degree to which they implement the various tenets of the religion. For this reason, you may meet Muslims who are more than happy to shake the hands of members of the opposite gender; however, the number of Muslims who refrain from doing so is significant, and an awareness of the issue is vital when interacting with Muslims, both formally and informally.

In conclusion, simple differences in social and religious customs should not be a cause of enmity towards others, and Muslims do not seek to offend anyone by not shaking hands or refraining from other forms of physical touching.

This also answers the following questions:

bq. Why don’t muslims shake hands? Do muslim men shake hands with women? Muslim men not shaking hands women? Muslim communication, example hand shaking? Muslims touching women?

answered May 19, 2015 by admin (4,500 points) 1 flag
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