To Shake or Not to Shake?


Probably the hardest thing I have had to master after wearing the hijab is plucking up the courage to refuse a handshake from someone of the opposite gender. This was not because I wanted to shake their hands, but because of the underlying requirement in today’s society that one must shake back the hand of the other who offers, and the mounting pressure of going against that cultural norm.

shake required

Two years ago when I was still in high school and had just started wearing the hijab, a male acquaintance greeted me and my friends and, one by one, started offering his hand to each one. I stared as his hand got closer and closer to mine in horror, and rampant excuses began forming in my mind, each one providing an even better reason for me to avoid shaking his hand.

When he finally came to me, I feebly smiled and gasped out an inaudible no. The consequence? I got ridiculed by my “friends” with comments like, “Why in the world could you not shake his hand?” and “What’s so wrong with a handshake?”

Instead of causing me to correct my mistakes for the next time, I became weak and started giving in to shaking hands after that – just so that I would not be ostracized by my peers.

Flash forward to the present, and to a situation that took place perhaps just a month ago. I had walked into one of my tutorial lectures at university when a new male student introduced himself to me and a friend and offered his hand. Before any thoughts could even begin forming in my head, I confidently smiled and said, “Sorry, I don’t shake hands.” Intrigued, he asked, “Why? Is it because of the swine flu?” I let out a little laugh and replied, “No, because of my religion.”

To my surprise, the student asked me what religion I belonged to! Not only did refusing to shake his hand protect me from unwanted sins, but it became into a wonderful opportunity for dawah! I told him that my religion is Islam and explained the reasoning behind why I do not shake hands. Alhumdulillah, I came out looking much better than I had in my appalling high school experience.

In a hadith narrated by Ma’qal ibn Yasar, the Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said:

“It is better for one of you to be pricked in the head by an iron pick than to touch one whom it is unlawful to touch”

Al-Mondhari says, “It (this hadith) is reported by al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi, and al-Tabarani’s transmitters are authentic and sound”.]

If Allah Al-Waliyy (the Protecting Friend, the Supporter) has commanded Muslim men and women to resist unlawful contact, then I choose pleasing Him far above choosing to please temporary friends. Even if I go against a conventional cultural norm.