Islamic Etiquette & The Shaking of Hands
By Rukhsana Khan
The hardest thing in the world for me is to
rebuff a genuinely friendly gesture. It is doubly hard when the gesture
is a basic greeting in another culture and a taboo in my own.
It is no secret that I am Muslim and as a Muslim I do my best to adhere
to the principles of Islam.
One of the basic rules of Islam is that men and women who are not
intimately related are not allowed to have any form of physical contact.
So when I got to a business meeting I am in a terrible dilemma when a
man extends his hand, in the normal manner, for me to shake.
In the past I counted on the fact that God is merciful and would forgive
me for the transgression, and then I shook the hand that was offered
while inwardly cringing at my disobedience.
Over time though, it has become more and more difficult for me to do
this. And in fact current trends in the artistic community have men and
women not only shaking hands but hugging and kissing.
It is such an awkward predicament to be in, especially since the shaking
of hands is done at the very beginning of an acquaintance, before the
other has a chance to know your cultural idiosyncrasies and can leave a
bad first impression or so I thought.
I finally got up the courage to consult some other children’s authors
about how to deal with this dilemma.
They were unanimous in their advice that I should just come out and tell
the people I meet that it’s simply against my religion. They agreed that
writing an article on my website would also help let people know that
it’s nothing personal.
In the discussion that followed some interesting points were made.
First of all, according to one children’s author, who is a former lawyer
and well acquainted with the business community, the men who were
extending their hands for me to shake were in breach of proper (Western)
A Miss Manners column I read confirmed it. The established etiquette
when men and women meet (regardless of whether they’re Muslim or not) is
that it is up to the woman to initiate physical contact, including the
shaking of hands. If the woman extends her hand, then the man can shake
it, but the man is not supposed to initiate the process. I found this
surprising but very reasonable. Unfortunately many men are not aware of
Another interesting issue raised was that by no means is this a
peculiarly Muslim dilemma.
Orthodox Jews are under the same restriction. Orthodox Jews are also not
permitted to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. The same is
true for Orthodox Hindus. There may indeed be other cultures out there
that face similar restrictions.
I’m sure things must get very confusing for people having to deal with
all these cultural taboos. It doesn’t help that people within these
cultures can be so inconsistent with regards to applying these rules.
Some Muslims observe the rule and others ignore it.
But I’m a great believer in asking for what you want. In my experience I
have found people to be more than understanding and accommodating.
I do my very best to reciprocate their generosity and accommodate them
in what they require.
article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or
produced without her express written permission.