Muslim Girl Problems: Shaking Hands with Men

shaking hands

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 girl 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?

Someone who answers this question in a humorous yet helpful way, is Amena on her Youtube channel Amenakin. You can find the video here.

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 girls 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.

Keep smiling, beautiful girls!

With love.

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  1. Another suggestion might be if you’re not in a formal situation (like a job interview) is to just nod, smile, and say thank you. It can be kinda akward at first, but at the same time, you are being polite and not just totally ignoring the person.

  2. Pingback: Muslim Girl Problems: Interacting with the Opposite Gender | The Muslim Girl

  3. I maintain a very humble and friendly tone and bring my hand close toward myself and say ” I’m soooo sorry , we’re not allowed to shake hands in our religion, I truly hope you don’t mind,” by now the other person is already apologizing but because you are humble and smiling out of kindness they don’t feel too bad I sometimes go on to say ” of course if your wife were here I would hug and kiss her along with a handshake!” That makes it light hearted and also the other realizes you mean no harm and that it is merely a religious requirement- trust me the average human is very understanding. Just be confident and do it ! Xx

    • Assalaamu ‘alaikum Br. Awais,

      As a brother I have struggled with this too, but after several years I’ve come to realize that the best thing we can do is ask, what might the Prophet (peace be upon him) do? and act upon it.

      It is hard trying to avoid handshakes, so I tried to develop a model based on what I think the Prophet would do in these kinds of situations (peace be upon him). I think it was in his character to emphasize kindness and subtle cues in body language. My thought is that the noor shining from his face would do all of the explaining 🙂 He was so gentle, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

      This is what I imagine: I think that whenever he met people he would smile a beautiful smile with his teeth showing, genuinely happy to see them, having come to love them for the sake of Allah before he even having met them. If it was a man, I think he would extend his hand, with eyes full of kindness, and would give him a firm handshake, but not so hard as to hurt him. If he met a lady, I do not think he would be the first to extend his hand, but would still smile his beautiful smile, make brief eye contact, eyes full of kindness for the sake of Allah, then slightly and gently bow his head by way of acknowledgement, while keeping a slight physical distance in between. Then he would raise his head and continue normal conversation, with a smile and a gentle tone, keeping far away from immodest topics and vulgar speech. I think he would look at people when they talked, then look off to the side and speak when it was his turn, now and then re-establishing eye contact to take cues from his listener. He would not go too long, or too short, but would speak a moderate amount.

      Some of the ladies might still extend their hands, and if he was working here in the West, I think he might accept their gesture, but would make the handshake moderately firm and swift, without hurting her hand, still smiling, but now looking down at the ground, feeling shy, which would send her the message that he is uncomfortable with physical contact. Or, he might in the gentlest of ways explain to her his reason for not shaking her hand. Turning down the handshake or feeling shy might potentially make a slightly negative impression on the person opposite to him, but I believe that the kindness in this encounter would color future interactions between them. Because of his kindness and his smile during the greeting process, and his quality of character (as would become clear ideas in their future work-related interactions), their handshake scenario would become a one-time occurrence, and both would remain on mutually kind terms while respecting each other’s physical space, insha Allah.

      This is how I envision our Prophet would behave if he was in our shoes, peace be upon him. May Allah forgive me if I have spoken incorrectly. But this is what I feel in my heart. How I wish he was here with us! Then we could ask him anything and everything to our hearts’ content 🙂

      But alhamdulilah, our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I wish that I could meet my brothers.” The Companions of the Prophet asked, “Are we not your brothers?” He replied: “You are my Companions, but my brothers are those who will believe in me, without having seen me.” [Musnad Ahmad] [1]

      May Allah bless us with the delight of being the Prophet’s neighbors in Jannatul-Firdaws, peace be upon him, and may He make things easy for us, brothers and sisters alike, inshAllah.

      Salaam,
      C.

      [1] http://muslimmatters.org/2011/01/26/blessed-prophetic-encounters-a-tearful-rider-and-a-toiling-wife/

  4. I can’t believe what I just read! Seriously! I guess you should rather write what things are not forbidden because everything in the world seems to be.
    It is time to come out of the 14th century and live in the present. There is absolutely no harm in a handshake. It is as casual as saying salaam. I shake hand with guys and even give a side hug to my male friends and trust me nothing happens. I am not stripped of my honour or fall in love with that guy or think about him or lust him. and trust me nor does the guy because again it is as casual as you wake up in the morning and see your face in the mirror.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I definitely didn’t say that you would be stripped of your honour or fall in love with a guy if you shook his hand. The purpose of the post was to provide options for girls (and guys) who struggle with this, and obviously not everyone does. Everyone’s different and has their own comfort zones; I’m merely providing options for those who aren’t comfortable.

    • Totally agree wid u. Too many restrictions for us women. We can’t come out of 14th century coz Islam (men mostly) won’t let us. Double standurds not fair.

    • (hadith) In the last time People will be obeying their own rules and thoughts .
      its not only u i am also having same thinking

    • I totally agree with you. The tentativeness surrounding something as mundane as a handshake has some really vulgar thinking behind it. This is why out of the top 8 porn consuming nations, 6 of them are Muslim majority. STOP sexualizing everything, it only produces the vulgarity that our communities are trying to avoid.

  5. Honestly speaking this isn’t only a problem in the west but also in the Muslim majority countries as well. I’m from Pakistan and its quite an awkward situation when a relative of the opposite sex (who are also Muslim!) wants to shake hands with you. I was able to convey this message to my boy cousins who now just greet and not outstretch their hands but its quite embarrassing to point it out to a relative older than you like a distant uncle or a family friend. Its even difficult in co ed when the opposite sex wants to high five you or shake hands. I believe many people are unaware of this sadly and this important teaching of the Qur’an needs to be conveyed too

    • Thank you for pointing this out! You’re right, it is a problem throughout the world and it can be very tricky to navigate around when it’s an uncle or older male relative. May Allah make it easy for us.

      • Your blog is inspiring and incredible and I’ve only read it for 5 minutes. I just found it after trying to make one myself . I am 15 years old and I love writing and reading. do u have any tips on how to make a amazing blog like your cuz I’m not sure I can top this. you must feel so joyful to be such a great help and inspiration to all the Muslim girls around the world who read it.i hope to do something like this so I feel like I’m helping others and the world in general. may allah reward you for your time an effort which is much appreciated.

  6. Asalamoalikum Sister, it is not always easy to do the right thing especially in this day and age. But one thing may make it easier for you: Next time you face the situation, just decide if the feelings of the person extending his hand to you are more important then then breaking the order of the Prophet (PBUH).

  7. I usually don’t extend my hand to muslim brothers, but living in the West I sometimes extend my hand first to non-muslims.. I know I feel so guilty, but I don’t want to be rude.. But you know what? Obeying Allah should be more important for me than pleasing others or not coming off as “rude”. Your article inspired me, thanks so much!

    • I faced same problem and I am a man I never try to shake ladies hands they put their hands out for handshake and started to bother me as I want to stick to teachings of the prophet Mohammed peace and blessing be upon him and I decided to be polite and brave about it and I told one lady I am really sorry I don’t shake hands and smiled and said it was very nice to meet you . I meet people everyday as I work as an apartment manager . But my thinking is ladies in the west and all over the whole world have the freedom to shake hands or to allow whoever close to them men should have the same freedom but I will definitely be polite about it

  8. Hello,

    I came across your article today while in a journey that I have been going through for quite some time (ten+ years). That journey is to understand the traditions of Muslims, religiously and in culture. A family member of mine is married to a practising Muslim and we have had many conversations and he is a man that I do respect. He’s giving, gentle, kind and patient.

    I must say though that this cultural or religious rule, however it is defined, in the western culture is most offensive – truthfully. I’m not going to go into how the handshaking tradition came about as I’m sure you can research that, but to insinuate that a gesture such as this can lead to “un-clean” or sexually charged “temptations” is insulting to men. This paints us humans who can’t control themselves or only have one thing on their mind. I would also add speaks negatively of all the advancements feminism has fought for, and that is for men to look and treat women with merit. A handshake in the business world does just that. Let me tell you when this is done right it has more power than any legal contract on paper.

    If I may throw out, and I would ask you to do some introspection on this, could this cultural tradition be brought about more from the days of the black plague (if you researched why we shake hands today you will know of this reference), or could it be subjugation of the female, or the Muslim scholars realization that this is basic way of making sure we don’t truly integrate?

    Believe me, I write to you not in a negative way but only to understand more and keep the dialog open. This is the only way we can learn about peoples cultures and understand each other. assalamualaikum

  9. I totally understand this, you know, not touching males, and vice versa.

    I just have a question: I’m in middle school, and right now we are playing volleyball in gym. That’s no problem.
    The REAL problem is when I get a point for our team, and my friends (all girls) are like hugging each other and doing what we do. But then when guys raise their hands for a high-five, I just stand there awkwardly and smile, as a hijabi.

    What should I do? I don’t want to hurt their feelings, and I’m honestly trying to find a way to solve this while being straightforward and kind. Any suggestions? Jazakallah!

  10. In true western US and British etiquette, men are taught not to extend their hand to a woman unless the woman does so first. This of has changed a lot, but most still know this. Most western reared men are not offended if a lady does not extend her hand. That really should never be a worry and a man would feel he is dealing with someone who is confident and poised. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have a few things too that make us stand out in society. We are not to drink coffee, tea and consume any form of alcohol. We are suppose to dress modestly too. We are not to use offensive language and are encouraged to let those who do, that we are offended or uncomfortable by it. These things can be hard to explain, but with some courage in the end, there is more respect.

  11. It seems to be that muslim women are the main adherents to a males interpretation of the holy Koran. Men seem do what they please from my experience however when it comes to females the same rules do not seem to apply. It is predominately the same in the Western world with non Muslims whereby women are judged much more in the eyes of society. As long as their is no sexual nature to the handshake then why not? I’ve never been one to covet a female on touch anyways. Conversation is pretty universal as a means of attraction wherby that is allowed but handshakes in a normal everyday setting?

    It is thing like this that are my main gripe with Islam, call it what you will but I’m merely trying to enter into some dialogue with those of the Islamic faith to better understand why things are the way that they are. Educate me please. I pass all my knowledge in the best way possible to every human I meet regardless off faith, gender, age, race or colour.

    • This article is written for the female perspective, because this site is targeted to Muslim girls. That’s why it’s about shaking hands with men. But the same advice is also given to men in Islam, not just to women. Both men and women in Islam are advised not to have physical contact with the opposite sex, other than those they are related to or married to.

  12. My question is this.. if a Somalian MUSLIM Man shakes hands with an American WICCAN (a witch to most) Woman over a discussion about RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL children teasing,throwing rocks, & provoking her dog (I know dogs are a no-no to most if not all muslims but, if you provoke an animal, YOU WILL get hurt, bit, or even killed).. Is that allowed?… I extended my hand after our discussion, & he shook it.. which I THOUGHT was very polite, till I was told it depends on WHICH HAND HE USED (right/left.. respect/disrespectful-SHIT/TOILET hand). I would never want ANYONE to Disrespect their RELIGION as I would never Disrespect mine. NOR, do I EVER (cuz who does period) want to be disrepected because of the hand they use to extend a gesture of greeting, acceptance, understanding, & acknowledgement. RESPECT GIVEN IS RESPECT EARNED!.. SO… EXPLAIN THIS TO ME PLEASE!.. (Is it ok.. & WHICH HAND?? is ACCEPTABLE?)Thank you for your blog.. as an African American/ Caucasian AMERICAN I appreciate your information. In MY RELIGION.. “BLESSED BE”. In YOUR RELIGION “As-salāmu ʿalaykum”.

  13. Hello;
    My name is Leslie, and I am new to islam. I am Hispanic and I married someone that is muslim. He doesn’t know many of the female things and I felt some type of way because he had told me that I couldn’t shake hands with the opposite sex. It feels good to know that I am not alone and now if I do shake hands with someone of the opposite sex it does feels so bad even though I come from a background where is normal.

  14. Shaking hands generally doesn’t belongs to Asian culture.It was the British Empire that had introduced Asians to shake hands with others during the Industrial Revolution.I as an Asian have my own way to greet somebody.I will place all my 10 fingers onto each other and say HELLO in my mother tongue.But,due to the technological advance,I have to get used with shaking hands,but seldom.

  15. Hey, great article 🙂 Great writing!

    I just want to say that I’m a Christian.. And i became one this summer, because God has a way of revealing himself when you seek for it! And he’s amazing. And he loves me! And you! Accept Christ as your Lord and Savior. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” 🙂 Pray to Jesus for him to reveal himself to you as the messiah and the only way to Heaven! Not through Muhammed (I mean no disrespect, just love and grace to you!).

    I’ll be praying for you all, Amen

  16. Speaking as a non-Muslim, who has had Muslim men refuse to shake my (female) hand, I find this practice startlingly divisive. I work in a group with a bunch of men and women. We all work and collaborate on group projects and tasks, and gender is not an issue. But now, all of a sudden, we have one member (a Muslim man) who has created this gender division within the group: there are some members of the group he will shake hands with, and some he will not. It makes the women in the group feel like they are different, and we all wonder if he thinks of us as ‘lesser’, and disrupts the cohesiveness of the group.

    Gender should not be an issue in the workplace. I think it would be much better if this person simply did not shake hands with _anyone_, rather than creating a division where formerly none existed.

  17. Hi all,
    Slightly different perspective on this one, possibly. But in this scenario, *I* am, as a non-Muslim, am the one who when faced with this conundrum didn’t think in time to prevent awkwardness and now feel awful about it.

    I live in Dublin, Ireland and this morning passed two Muslim ladies who were moving in to a nearby apartment as I was heading to work.

    We’ve had an issue with a building side door being left open, so I asked them to shut it when they were done (which they were fine about) and one of them told me they were just using it to move in – completely understandable.

    So I welcomed them and hoped they were very happy living here, and then completely without thinking, extended my hand.

    She took it, and we shook briefly. I wished them well, left and that was that.

    But seconds later I realised I was mistaken to extend my hand at all and put her in an awkward position, and I felt terrible for putting her in that position. I was really cross with myself, as it would have been just as easy looking back to leave my hands in my coat pocket, have the conversation and smile and leave.

    So completely accidental – but the question for the users on here is this; how much of an awkward position did I put the lady in? And is it likely she was put out but couldn’t react in time to tell me nicely? (Ironically, I would have completely understood!)

  18. Thanks, Miss. As you suggested, I use humour. The other day, my parents’ friend’s son was leaving our house, and he extended his arm to me to say goodbye. I didn’t shake his hand; I told him that hygiene prevented me from shaking hands. I don’t think he felt too bad, because he left with a smile and a shrug.

    -K