Home / News / Community Affairs / To Shake or Not?

To Shake or Not?

What do you say? Or do you?Surprisingly, this situation has been debated upon for a long time, even though some strongly believe that there really is not anything to argue about. Living in any environment where hand-shaking is a common practice can be a challenge to those who wish to integrate although at the same time would like to uphold Islamic values.What do you say? Or do you?Imagine the moments of your first job interview. Your palms are sweaty, your briefcase feels heavy, and every strand of hair on your head is to be inspected. Or, you hope so anyway. As you sit on the train, you daydream about the office space and the warm cup of coffee that you hope you will win after presenting your portfolio.

Rushing along to the 31st and Lexington, your heart is beating, and you recite a quick prayer that you hope will win you the job. Entering into the reception area, you think about walking into this space every morning. Not a bad place to be, you think and smile at your potential boss as she welcomes you into her office.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she warmly says and extends her hand to you at the door.

Now take the above scenario and imagine yourself as the interviewee. Would you extend your hand to your potential boss despite him or her being non-Mahram to you?

Surprisingly, this situation has been debated upon for a long time, even though some strongly believe that there really is not anything to argue about. Living in any environment where hand-shaking is a common practice can be a challenge to those who wish to integrate although at the same time would like to uphold Islamic values.

In order to see how Muslim brothers and sisters approach this issue, several were asked standard questions with regards to their value system as well as what they would do in the situation that they had to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex that are non-Mahram (unrelated).

Take Sajjeda Sulayman*, who works in a Human Resources department on her college campus and is in constant contact with non-Mahrams. When asked what she thought of the issue, she replied that hand-shaking is fine and that there is nothing immodest about it.

“I don’t believe handshaking is forbidden, because I have not found sufficient evidence to believe that it is,” she said. “I think it is a deeper issue than just answering yes or no too. Islam is about modesty and decency. I do not find it immodest or indecent to shake another man’s hand who is not Mahram to me. I think the Hijab and the way you carry yourself will tell the man there is a limit to the relationship between them.”

On the other hand, Mohammed-Ali Nasser thinks drastically differently and is very adamant about his views on whether or not hand-shaking is permissible.

“Islam has a very clear position with regards to maintaining separation of the sexes, which becomes evident when one analyzes the concept of Hijab in Islam,” he said. “In addition, the integrity of the interaction between a male and a female that are Mahram (i.e. husband and wife, mother and son, etc.) is highly valued and its position is maintained in Islam by providing those involved with certain privileges.”

Although many of us might have our own personal views on the issue, it is important to see what our Religious Authorities (Maraja Taqleed) have to say in this regard. Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani represents the view of the majority of our scholars when he states that a Muslim man is not allowed to shake hands with a woman without a barrier, such as gloves, unless refraining from shaking hands will put him in a considerable harm or unbearable difficulty. In the latter case, he is allowed to shake hands to the extent of necessity only. Therefore, in certain rare circumstances, there are exceptions to the rule.

As most in the corporate environment do not have the option of wearing gloves, or choose not to out of convenience or personal taste, the question then arises as to how this view is manifested in day-to-day actions. In reality, a brief explanation of the common Islamic belief is given to enable the other person to understand that the refusal to shake hands should not be taken personally.

Zaineb Rizk, like many, does not have a problem being upfront about her reasons.

“When approached by a non-Mahram, I refuse to shake their hand,” she said. “I say something along the lines of “Please pardon me, but I do not shake hands with men.'”

Similarly, Mohammed-Ali Nasser is quite open to discussing his reasons and maintaining a distance.

“A simple explanation of the inability to have any form of physical contact with those who are not my close relatives usually suffices,” he said. “But I try to keep it exciting by using different variations of that explanation.”

Besides the verbal explanation expressing the underlying reasons why a Muslim cannot shake the hands of a non-Mahram, body language can play a very important role in communicating the codes of behavior that a Muslims abides by. For example, besides just explaining the reasons why one cannot shake hands, it is necessary to pay particular attention to one’s hands at the time. When a non-Mahram extends his or her hand, many find it easy to place their hands on their chest as a sign of respect all the while carrying on with an explanation.

Furthermore, it is wise to not lean forward at the time of meeting a non-Mahram, as this gives the impression that you are about to shake hands or welcome such an action from the other person. Many have found this method of observing body language to be an extra form of respect, especially with regards to acknowledging that the other person has extended their hand as a sign of friendship.

There are obviously ways to go about maintaining Islamic values and laws in a secular and co-educational environment, but what does that say about integration into and survival in Western society? In fact, some individuals believe that integration is affected by not shaking hands with non-Mahrams.

“I know that I lost my job and was not re-hired because I refused to shake the hand of the boss,” said Maryam Kobeisi.

Despite fears of not being able to integrate, it is refreshing to know that there are many individuals who are able to carry on with their day-to-day lives without much difficulty. In fact, they think that tolerance is one of the values that is in general not a problem worldwide.

Said Rizk, “I don’t think it poses a problem to integrate, because I am only disagreeing to make physical contact with them and not any other communication etc. We all must learn to respect each other’s different beliefs and cultures. Sometimes we give, and other times they give.”

* Some of the names have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees.

About Zahra Khimji

Check Also

Ask the Shaykh: Is Arbaeen Walk to Karbala an Innovation?

Question By the Grace of God I have been going for the Arbaeen walk in …

The Road from Heaven to Paradise

The Holy place of Najaf – the sacred shrine of my Mawla Ali The father …

  • HadhratKhadija5

    Thanks for this article and opening up the debate regarding hand shaking; we were taking over the comments section of the hejab article taking on this issue.

    The japanese, and other asian countries, hold the belief that physical touch with another person is disrespectful, hence they don’t shake hands for business either – and American Business wo/men learned that quickly in the 1980’s.

    The difference between Muslim traditions and Japanese traditions of not shaking hands is that the Japanese instead bow with their arms at their side to show respect since they don’t shake hands, Muslims have no such alternative universal greeting established.

    In Iran however, one sign of greeting without shaking hands is placing the right hand on the heart and bowing. Maybe that could be a universal Muslim greeting to be used when one wants to refuse shaking hands. If we adopted a universal standard of doing so then non-Muslims would quickly catch on. Of course it has to happen on media outlets for them to see en mass.

  • Zahra sabir

    I have recently been in 3 situations where i had to shake hands. no its was not a life and death thing neither was i going to be fired ..it was just those moments where being a new teacher, parents(male) introduced themselves and i just gave in…. I cannot believe how this could happen 3 times but i desperately need loads of verbal ideas and stuff which i can memorize and get out of situations like these with out seemingly offending any one ! please i need help !

  • otowi

    I know for teachers meeting parents trying not to shake hands can bel very challenging! A few silly things that I’ve done that have sometimes worked: have things in your hands when the greeting takes place – a stack of papers to grade, textbooks, etc., or try to have the greeting happen while there is some distance between you still, like with some desks between you and the parent, etc.

  • Servant

    Salaam… Things that can work:

    * During cold days, and especially now that winter is coming up soon, wear gloves (not the huge kind that would look weird if worn indoors)… and keep those gloves on throughout the day, with a scarf around your neck as well (so it matches). If asked why, say that you are trying to stay warm.

    * If no gloves, then yes, as mentioned above, try to keep your hands full (literally), with papers, pens, cups, etc… All you have to do is avoid the first greeting encounter with the person (at least on that occasion). It’s not like they’re going to keep on trying to shake your hand after you’ve already been introduced without a handshake the first time.

    * If worse comes to worse, say, “Please excuse me, I appreciate your greeting but I am fasting today” with your hand across your chest and a little bow.

    * Depending on your personality, you may get away with being more blunt in the explanation without offending anyone… or joking about it somehow. You should gauge the situation and:

    **** Keep Allah (swt) before your eyes at all times.


  • HadhratKhadija6

    I was doing some research on shaking hands and I recommend reading these links and some of the sub-links:

    Background on shaking hands http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake
    (Wearing gloves and shaking hands is an insult in Western cultures)

    Orthodox Jews go through this same issue as well and some of the references reveal some fascinating discussions they have on refusing shaking hands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negiah

  • Servant


    Wearing gloves and shaking hands is not an insult in Western cultures across the board. It depends on the situation, generally, and trying to stay warm may be a good reason to keep the gloves on. In the end, all of these traditionally cultural views about handshaking may very well be changing as time goes on, so nothing is set in stone when it comes to handshaking.


  • Poe

    Thank you for sharing this thought provoking piece sister. For many of us, we have no problems telling others that we don’t drink, date, party, etc. but for some reason when it comes to telling non-mehrams that we cannot shake hands, we have difficulty. As a practicing Muslim in the professional world, I also admit to struggling with this from time to time. Although I do refuse to shake hands, when I do so something inside me cringes as I think to myself what the other person may be thinking of me. I would like to add that in my view, I think it’s a bit more difficult for professionals to refuse to shake hands, as there is a certain social etiquette that one is expected to follow. Furthermore, in the West today, in my view again it is a bit more difficult for men to refuse to shake hands than women, as when men say something along the lines of “I can’t shake hands with women,” it is interpreted by those with a feminist-bent as if you’re following some sort of ancient misogynistic view that women are inherently impure or unclean. Nevertheless I’m sure it is quite difficult for both men and women of all backgrounds to follow this ruling.

    To the sister who is a teacher above, I would recommend above all else, strengthening your will power and imploring Allah (swt) for help. For a time when I first started refusing to shake hands, I too was looking for convenient ways out, for example wearing gloves (even indoors in the summer), or making sure something was in my hands in case I was introduced to another person. I slowly realized that for the rest of my life I’m not going to be able to keep gloves on indoors or to constantly be alert to make sure that I carry something heavy around in my hands in case I’m introduced to a non-mehram. Instead I decided that it would be better to focus my effort on strengthening my willpower and understanding of why we don’t shake hands with non-mehrams, and imploring Allah’s assistance in giving me strength to refuse. This has helped tremendously, and while I’m still not perfect at refusing, I’ve made a lot of progress and hope to be able to reach the point where I can politely refuse to shake any non-mehram’s hand and not even think twice about what she may be thinking.

    One question I have, for either the editor of this magazine or others, is how “necessity” is defined or understood by our marajae-taqleed. For instance, is one allowed to shake hands with the CEO of a corporation? With a President? With a judge?

    Also, for what it’s worth, it seems like our brothers from Ahl as Sunnah have the same view on this issue. Reading these helped me reaffirm my conviction in not shaking hands, as this was the practice of our Prophet (saw)!



  • Arsalan.Rizvi

    In regards to defining “necessity”, please see the following Q&A from Ayatollah Sistani’s [i]A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West[/i]:

    530. Question: In some countries it is customary that the person who arrives [at a meeting or an office] will shake hands with all who are present including women, of course, without lustful intention. And if he refuses to shake hands with the women, it would be considered abnormal, and more often than not it would be considered an act of contempt and insult towards the woman. All this would reflect negatively on their view concerning the person. Is it, therefore, permissible to shake hands with women?

    Answer: It is not permissible. And the problem should be tackled by not shaking the hands of anyone or by wearing gloves, for example. If this is not possible for the person and [b]he thinks that refusing to shake hands would cause great and unbearable difficulty for him[/b], then it is permissible at that time. All this is based on the assumption that it is necessary for him to attend such a gathering; otherwise, if it is not possible for him to refrain from haram, then it is not permissible for him to attend such a gathering.


  • Nadir

    Salaam alaikum.

    It used to be hard. It’s easy now. I just make sure my body language makes it obvious. Normally, I put my hand on my heart and bow: “sorry, but I cannot shake hands with the opposite sex.” When it gets awkward, I say “sorry, but I cannot shake your hand…but otherwise I’m completely normal!” I read that somewhere. Very smart.

  • a brother

    The book “A code of practice for Muslims in the West” has both outdated as well as incorrect information. Some of it is very vague as well. For example, white gold is mentioned as being permissible for men to wear although it is clearly no different than yellow gold except for it being a different color. There are many other things in it that are wrong. Additionally, half of the book is by one scholar, the second half is by another (Ayatollah Seestani).

    The issue of “great and unbearable harm” is highly subjective and not a clear answer. One could argue that the image of Islam is negatively impacted by not shaking hands and thus it should not be prohibited. Another person could argue that shaking hands should only be done if if one is about to lose their job. Another person might say shaking hands should only be done if meeting a person one time. I wish there were more books that gave the clear cultural guidance which our community needs instead of putting all the onus on the individuals who are confused by all these apparently vague commands.

  • a brother

    Just as proof of the example I mentioned above, I’m posting the section on clothing below.

    202: Men are not allowed to wear gold regardless of whether it is a [normal] ring, a wedding ring, a wristwatch, or other things in salãt as well as outside it. It is permissible for them to wear gold-plated items, provided that gold is only considered as a coating and nothing more.

    203: It is permissible for men to wear what is known as white gold.

    204: Women are allowed to wear gold at all times, even in salãt.

  • dia

    Brother, a scholar here was told directly from Ayatollah Sistani that a Code of Practice in the West is the most up to date of his rulings for people living here and it supercedes all the other books in English. I don’t see the problem with the rulings you are mentioning. White gold is not the same yellow gold, it is an alloy or mixture of metals, usually nickel, palladium and/or zinc. And what is the issue of women wearing gold during salat?

  • japanese

    As for the Japanese example, I think it works but only to a point. Because just as with Muslims, we still see plenty of Japanese who shake hands. And, their issue was simplified in that it was not gender specific. A Western non-Muslim can get very confused when they see you shake hands with someone right before them, then they stick their hands out to you and you don’t want to shake hands. They are not used to gender distinctions and the shock in such a situation can lead to an insult even if explained. I wonder if in mixed company if it would be better to avoid shaking hands altogether, even with the same gender.

  • Arsalan.Rizvi

    “A Brother”,

    Your last comment on this article has been removed because it contained unverified Fiqhi information that might confuse some people. As per the ruling of Ayatollah Sistani:

    5. There are four ways of obtaining the verdicts of a Mujtahid:
    * When a man hears from the Mujtahid himself.
    * When the verdict of the Mujtahid is quoted by two just persons.
    * When a man hears the verdict from a person whose statement satisfies him.
    * By reading the Mujtahid’s book of Masae’l, provided that one is satisfied about the correctness of the book.

    6. As long as a person is certain that the verdict of the Mujtahid has not changed, he can act according to what is written in the Mujtahid’s book. And if he suspects that the verdict might have been changed, investigation in that matter is not necessary .


    Those who have confusions or questions about Fiqhi issues are advised to directly consult their respective [i]Maraja Taqleed[/i]. This is not a forum to spread unverified Fiqhi information. In the future, please refrain from doing so.

    Wassalam Alaikum,

    Arsalan Rizvi
    Editor, Islamic Insights

  • a brother

    You have taken information away that should have stayed on this site. It was not ‘unverified fiqhi information’ but rather the current views of Ayatollah Seestani. While you say you do not want people to be misled, what you have said does not really explain why you removed the comment.

    Again, it is not allowed for men to wear white gold. It is mentioned in the book that it IS in fact allowed. This was because to confusion over what white gold is. I posted links proving white gold is just gold that has been colored and Ayatollah Seestani’s position that it is not allowed which has been verified.

    You may not agree with what I have said in which case you should provide proof rather than censor my comments. I also quite frankly find it strange you are erasing what is clear evidence while allowing quotes to stand which praise a book with “unverified fiqhi information”. That is not right brother.

  • white gold

    White gold is not just colored gold. It is an alloy made of gold, nickel, palladium and nickel and therefore absolutely under no circumstances could be construed as pure gold – do any Google search of white gold. A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West has been verified by Ayatollah Sistani as the most up to date and accurate ruling book for people IN THE WEST. It is possible that he has a different ruling on white gold for people living in the Middle East. or that his ruling changed from a previous one to this one.

    As for the other rulings you mentioned, there is no conflict there – one referred to women and the other to men.

    You can ask your marja for his/her rulings directly or also consult with the scholars about the status of the different ruling books, but there really is no point to argue over such things since it is perfectly acceptable for people to act according to that ruling book if they are in his taqlid.

    Also this really has nothing to do now with shaking hands; your original comment about the vagueness of the ruling – that is actually something common by all marja because some situations are not black and white and depend on individual circumstances – so all they can tell you are the guidelines for differentiating between individual circumstances that may happen to you when they feel absolute statements would actually contradict the intent of the ruling as they understand it should be.

  • Arsalan.Rizvi

    My dear brother,

    No one is trying to “censor” you. The reason I quoted Ruling #5 from Ayatollah Sistani’s [i]Islamic Laws[/i] above is to make the point that there is a proper procedure when it comes to obtaining a Marja’s fatwa. There are four ways of doing so as per his ruling, and “posted under the ‘Comments’ section in an article on Islamic Insights by ‘a brother'” does not happen to be an approved method of acquiring a Marja’s fatwa. As per [i]A Code of Practice[/i], Ruling #203, white gold is allowed for men. If that fatwa has changed or is incorrectly recorded in the book, we cannot accept your word for it. We need it to be confirmed through one of the abovementioned four methods. Until then, it will be considered “unverified”.

    And as per Ruling #6 of [i]Islamic Laws[/i] that I quoted above, if we suspect as to whether a Marja’s fatwa has changed or not, it is not incumbent upon us to do the research. We can continue to act according to what is recorded in his book of rulings until we obtain definitive proof that states otherwise through one of the four mediums outlined in Ruling #5.

    Once again, please consult your own Marja Taqleed directly for clarification on jurisprudential issues.


  • a brother

    brother or sister “white gold”, so are you saying that anything less than 24kt gold is not gold since those are combinations of different metals? Are you saying that 18kt yellow gold is not gold? Because that’s what we are left at. White gold has enough gold in it that it is still gold. The reason white gold is named as such is because it is still considered gold but has been turned white by adding other metals to change a property, in this case color. Yellow gold that is less than 24kt also has metals added to it but to affect different properties such as hardness.

    Brother Arsalan, what you have said is fair. I guess I should have said where I got my info from. I’ll try to be more clear next time. I do think that the book has many good things in it, just that we should look more closely at it and remember to consult our scholars like you suggested. Thank you!

  • a brother

    btw, I did post a link about white gold but it was deleted earlier

  • white gold

    I would suggest you ask Ayatollah Sistani himself. It could be a matter of what I think is called ‘urf, or common conception of the essence of a substance. For example, in his rulings it is mentioned that a person can consider water ritually “pure” in certain cases if it looks like normal water to him/her even though there could be a small amount of impurity in it that did not change its color or appearance. If Ayatollah Sistani applied the same logic to the matter of gold, the fact that the color has changed in this concept may be behind his ruling that it is permissible to wear- but again, ask him.

  • OJ

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to mold Islam to our convenience and have our Marja say what we wish to hear.

  • no thank you

    No, thank you – that is a slippery slope to hell.

  • dingdong

    I think the first person, Sajjeda Sulayman needs to reexamine how she comes to jurisprudential conclusions. Some folk dont do taqlid and would like hadithes so for them:
    Muhammad b. Ya`qub (in al-Kafi) from `Ali b. Ibrahim from his father from Ibn Abi `Umayr from Abu Ayyub al-Kharraz (alt. al-Khazzaz) from Abu Basir from Abu `Abdillah (as). He said: I said to him: Does the man shake the hand of the woman who is not mahram? So he said: No, except from behind a (piece of) clothing.


    And from a group of our companions from Ahmad b. Muhammad from `Uthman b. `Isa from Sama`a b. Mihran. He said: I asked Abu `Abdillah (as) 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 her, a sister or a daughter or a paternal aunt or a maternal aunt of the daughter of a sister (niece) or like it. As to the woman whom he is allowed to marry her, then he is not to shake her hand except from behind a (piece of) clothing and he is not to feel her palm.

  • Sadiq…

    A very nice write up, thanks.

    Refusing to shake hands in a job interview is fairly straight forward, but what is difficult is refusing to shake hands once you have got that job and are now representing that company, especially if you are a professional working in big firms.

    I myself work in a large law society, which deals with millionaire clients weekly, though I have been here for quite some time and managed to get away without shaking any females hands, I am nervous about a day when a [i]big[/i] client extends her hand to me, my obvious and spontaneous reaction would be to refuse, as it has become almost second nature, but the consequences could cost the company dear financially.

  • Sadiq…

    “Refusing to shake hands in a job interview is fairly straight forward”

    The reason I said the above is because:
    -there is no strings attached, meaning you are not employed by them so you do not have to comply with their orders
    -the interview room is a perfect place for you to explain to them your reasoning to refuse shaking hands as they will listen to you, unlike when you are out in the working environment
    -they can know from day one that you do not shake hands with females and find you a role suitable to this, or they can reassure you that it is no problem