Shaking Hands with Women in Islam
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The Islamic Concept of Modesty
- 3 Shaking Hands with Women in Islam
- 4 Possible Exceptions and Scenarios
- 5 Cultural Influences on Handshaking
- 6 Alternative Greetings in Islam
- 7 Respecting Personal Boundaries
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 FAQ
In today’s globalized world, diverse cultures and customs often intertwine, sometimes leading to questions about the appropriateness of specific practices. One such practice is shaking hands with a woman in Islam, particularly from the Shia perspective. In this article, we’ll explore the Islamic concept of modesty, the Shia perspective on shaking hands with women, and alternative ways of greeting in Islam. We’ll also discuss respecting personal boundaries and cultural influences on handshaking.
The Islamic Concept of Modesty
Gender Interaction in Islam
Islam places great emphasis on modesty and proper conduct between men and women. This code of conduct aims to maintain the dignity and honor of both genders and prevent inappropriate interactions. Both men and women are instructed to lower their gaze and maintain a level of decorum when interacting with each other.
Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, “O Prophet! Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them. Surely Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to reveal their adornments1 except what normally appears.” [24:30-31]
The Importance of Modesty
Modesty is considered an essential aspect of the Islamic faith, as it promotes self-respect, humility, and a sense of social responsibility. By adhering to the principles of modesty, individuals can maintain healthy relationships and contribute positively to society.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) said: “Modesty and faith are tied up together; they are always to be found together.” [ Mizan al-Hikmah – Volume 1 – Page 717]
Shaking Hands with Women in Islam
Basis in the Quran and Hadith
There are no specific Quranic verses addressing the issue of handshaking between men and women. However, some hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) are cited by scholars as evidence against physical contact between non-mahram men and women (those who are not close relatives). The Islamic perspective on this issue is mainly derived from these hadiths and the rulings of prominent Islamic scholars.
The scholars do not disagree on the prohibition of shaking hands with a non-mahram woman. A non-mahram woman refers to a woman whom a man is allowed to marry if she is not currently his wife. Likewise, a non-mahram man refers to a man whom a woman is allowed to marry if he is not currently her husband.
This clarifies that there is no problem in shaking hands with mahram relatives as long as it does not lead to lust or corruption. The prohibition of shaking hands with a non-mahram woman can be inferred, in addition to the general prohibition of touching a non-mahram woman, from a collection of narrations:
The Messenger of Allah (s) said: “Whoever shakes hands with a forbidden woman will come on the Day of Resurrection shackled and will be ordered to the fire. Whoever talks suggestively to a woman he does not own, Allah will imprison him for every word he speaks in this world for a thousand years.”
The Holy Prophet in the Hadith of Prohibitions said: “…whoever shakes hands with a woman who is forbidden to him has committed an act that incurs the wrath of Allah, and whoever touches a forbidden woman will be chained in a chain of fire along with a devil and will be thrown into the fire.”
A narration quotes Sama’ah ibn Mihran as saying: I asked Abu Abdillah, Ja’far al-Sadiq (a) about a man shaking hands with a woman. He (as) replied: “It is not permissible for a man to shake hands with a woman except for a woman whom he is forbidden to marry, like a sister, daughter, aunt, niece, or similar, and as for a woman whom he is allowed to marry, he should only shake her hand from behind a cloth and not squeeze her hand.”
Another narration is from Abu Basir who narrated from Abu Abdillah (as) who said: I asked him if a man can shake hands with a woman who is not a mahram? He (as) replied: “No, except from behind a cloth.”
As you can see, both narrations clearly indicate the prohibition when the handshake is direct. There are other narrations that can support these two narrations:
There is no doubt about the prohibition of shaking hands with a non-mahram woman directly. However, if it is from behind a cloth, it is permissible, as indicated by the narrations of Sama’ah and Abu Basir, provided that there is no squeezing of the hand, as required by the narration of Sama’ah. Squeezing refers to pressing the hand firmly and lightly squeezing it. However, the permissibility of shaking hands from behind a cloth without squeezing is only allowed when both parties are sure that it will not lead to corruption, lust, or doubt. If any of these concerns arise, the handshake becomes forbidden, even from behind a cloth and without squeezing. This is due to the general prohibition of enjoying anything other than one’s spouse.
I take this opportunity to remind my brothers and sisters of the saying of Imam Ali (a): “Do not feel lonely on the path of guidance due to the fewness of its people.” Even if the whole world joined together to beautify an act that the Shariah has deemed ugly and forbidden, it is the believer’s duty not to feel alienated and to find comfort and assurance in walking the path of truth.
Possible Exceptions and Scenarios
Medical and Emergency Situations
In cases of medical necessity or emergency, physical contact between non-mahram individuals may be permitted. For example, a male doctor may touch a female patient for examination or treatment purposes. Similarly, in a life-threatening situation, it may be permissible for non-mahram individuals to touch each other to provide assistance.
In professional settings, there might be instances where handshaking is considered an unavoidable custom. In such situations, it’s important to weigh the potential consequences and make a decision based on the principles of Islam, individual conscience, and cultural norms.
Cultural Influences on Handshaking
Western and Eastern Perspectives
In Western cultures, handshaking is a common and expected form of greeting, regardless of gender. However, in Eastern and Islamic societies, handshaking between non-mahram men and women may be considered inappropriate and forbidden due to cultural and religious beliefs. It’s crucial to be aware of these differences and navigate them respectfully.
Adapting to Cultural Norms
When interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds, it’s essential to adapt to cultural norms and respect their values. Understanding and acknowledging the reasons behind these customs can help bridge the gap between different cultures and foster mutual respect.
Alternative Greetings in Islam
Salam – The Islamic Greeting
Instead of handshaking, Muslims often greet each other with the phrase “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “Peace be upon you.” This greeting promotes a sense of unity and goodwill among Muslims and is considered a highly recommended act in Islam.
There are several non-physical alternatives to handshaking that can be used when greeting someone of the opposite gender in Islam. These alternatives include verbal greetings, such as “As-salamu alaykum,” a nod, or a simple smile. Adopting these non-physical forms of greeting allows Muslims to maintain modesty while still engaging in a warm and respectful exchange.
Respecting Personal Boundaries
Consent and Personal Comfort
It’s essential to respect personal boundaries and ensure that both parties are comfortable with any form of physical contact. In situations where handshaking is not customary, it’s crucial to seek consent before initiating a handshake to avoid making the other person feel uncomfortable or disrespected.
Building Understanding and Respect
In a diverse society, it’s important to create an environment of understanding and respect for different cultural and religious practices. By being open to learning about others’ beliefs and adapting our behavior accordingly, we can foster a more inclusive and harmonious community.
Shaking hands with women in Islam, is generally prohibited due to the emphasis on modesty and maintaining proper conduct between men and women. However, there may be exceptions in certain situations, such as medical necessity or emergencies. Understanding cultural differences and respecting personal boundaries are essential in fostering positive interactions and maintaining a harmonious society. Alternative greetings, such as offering “As-salamu alaykum” or a simple nod, can be a respectful way to greet someone of the opposite gender while preserving the values of modesty in Islam.
1- Is it haram to shake hands with a woman in Shia Islam?
Islamic scholars prohibit handshaking between non-mahram men and women, based on the principle of preserving the sanctity of modesty in Islam.
2- Are there any exceptions to the prohibition of handshaking between non-mahram men and women in Islam?
Exceptions may include medical necessity, emergencies, or unavoidable situations in professional settings.
3- What is an alternative greeting to handshaking in Islam?
Muslims often use the phrase “As-salamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you) as a greeting. Other non-physical alternatives include a nod or a simple smile.
4- How can one be respectful of cultural differences when it comes to handshaking?
Being aware of cultural norms, seeking consent before initiating a handshake, and using alternative non-physical greetings can help in respecting cultural differences.
5- How does the concept of modesty influence handshaking between men and women in Islam?
The Islamic concept of modesty emphasizes maintaining proper conduct between men and women, which may include avoiding physical contact like handshaking between non-mahram individuals.