Saturday, November 28, 2009

Um, can you NOT touch me?

A couple of months ago, I was at my cousins house for a dinner party.

While at her house, I was looking at a calendar and was reading about the Malaysian culture and how it is custom for guests to take their shoes off when entering someone's home. It is highly offensive if you don't. It's taken so seriously that if you fail to abide, you might get shot.

Not really.

That was a joke.

In the religion of Islam, a custom or rule, rather, that we have is that women should not touch a male and a male should not touch a female. Unless it is their mahram- a close relative, i.e. father, brother, husband. And the bottom line and reasoning behind this can be summed up to: One touch can lead to a whole lot of other things. If you catch my drift.

So that's why it should be avoided at all costs.

When I'm at interviews, I'm always thinking, I really hope a guy is not gonna be interviewing me. I dont want him to extend his hand for a handshake.

Truth be told, and I'm going to be completely honest with you all, it's frustrating to explain to people why Muslims cannot shake the opposite genders hand and why they cant give us a pat on the shoulder or give us hugs or why they shouldn't be grabbing us from the waist and trying to carry us to a karaoke bar in the middle of the night. (That in itself is another story, for another day)

But it happens. Men try to shake my hand and I'm thinking in my head: WTF do i do know.

I can hardly say, "Can you not touch me."

Although it might work for some situations, it's not your safest bet.

Do I shake it?
Yeah just do it this one time. Because you'll never see this guy ever again.
Phew. Now that that is done we can move on.
Yeah. Ummmm think again. ::As the guy comes to shake your hand as you depart and even pats your shoulder::

or another scenario:

Do I shake it?
No. Just explain to him that in Islam, we are prohibited from physically touching another man that is not our Mahram
Phew. Now that that is done we can move on.
Wait. I feel like he's looking at me funny. Maybe I've offended him. Oh God, he's totally judging all Muslims out there. He thinks I'm a freak. He thinks all Muslim girls are freaks. He's probably thinking What's the big deal if you shake a guy's hand. Now he's definitely going to think Muslim women are oppressed. That just confirmed it.


Or something of that nature. I might be over thinking a tad bit.

But let's get some things straight: Muslim women are not oppressed.

You already knew that?

Good. I'm glad we're on the same page.

So do you see why it can be kind of difficult to maneuver around this situation? It can be rough.

Lately, I have brushed my morals aside (which is not a good thing) and continue to shake the opposite gender's hand. When you think it will be a one time thing, think again. I shook one guy's hand when I met him. And now he thinks it's okay to give me hugs.

I mean he doesn't really hug me, but he'll put his hand on my shoulder or around my shoulder and he thinks its okay.

Ever since I started teaching, that's all I've been doing. When I met the CEO, I shook his hand. When I meet a parent, I shake their hand. When I meet a new co-worker, I shake their hand.

It seems like it's never going to end.

Howie Mandel, the host of Deal or No Deal, doesn't shake people's hands because he suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And he makes people aware of this. The "dont shake my hand" thing. Not the OCD thing.

When in China, foreigners know that it's a custom to bow their heads when they initially meet someone.

Why can't people learn the customs of Muslims, I always wondered.

However, it's not that people aren't learning. It's that hardly anyone is teaching them.

(Obviously I speak about myself, before I speak about anyone else)

So as an attempt to change that, especially on my own part, I thought I would share it with you all.

Thus being said, if you are a female and meet a Muslim guy and know that he's Muslim, dont extend your hand, dont hug them, dont lean against them, dont pat them on the back, and dont kick them (unless they deserve it). And if you are a guy and you happen to meet a Muslim female, same thing goes for you: don't extend your hand.

It will save you a lot of awkward moments. Trust me.

Get it?

Got it?


I should really listen to my own advice, huh?

Either that or I should buy a pin that says this and wear it at all times:


Ashley said...

Wow, I never knew that. I will definitely remember that in the future. Do most Muslims feel this way?

Falling Up said...

A lot of Muslims feel that way but in order to not offend they shake hands anyways. Some are more practicing than others, like all religions. So if you do happen to extend your hand and they take it they might be ok with it or dont want to offend you. Or they might even be the ones to extends. It all depends on how religious one is.

I'd LIKE TO ASK EVERYONE THIS:: What would be a way to tell NonMuslims about not shaking hands in a way that isn't offensive. Bc if we just say our religion doesnt allow physical contact with the opposite gender then they still get offended.

And I wonder how this will affect future job interviews etc. It shouldn't but I'm wondering if it will...

tiff said...

Just tell people that you'd prefer to not get the flu. :)

IMO - I can't see how it would offend people if you told them you're prefer to not shake hands based on religious preference. It's not like you're refusing to sign a contract or something else legally binding!

controlled chaos said...

Actually some Muslim scholars have said its not forbidden but just highly disliked.

And I think a fewer minority might have said that it's okay if it's only limited to shaking hands for professional reasons.

But the major opinion among Muslim scholars is that any type of physical interaction should be avoided.

I've tried pretending to have really sweaty hands to get out a handshake once. It didn't work.

Artistic Logic said...

to add on to cc ^... yep some scholars have said that because a lot in Islam depends on intentions... when someone is shaking hands at an interview they're not (hopefully) intending to touch you for some other reason...and neither are you...
but its still better avoided

i absolutely hate that situation...

oh and i learned that in proper etiquette a gentleman should never extend his hand to a female anyways because it has been considered RUDE...if she extends her hand first, then its ok (i'm talking strictly western etiquette not islamic)

Mrs. Cullen said...

Sigh. I always just try to keep my distance or hold my phone in both hands when I see a guy I know at school. Its an awkward moment for both of us.

One time I went to a Pistons (basketball game) with one of my friends and her dad. We were down by 1 pt and were in overtime so it was a REALLY CRAZY game. Anyway, we ended up wining in the lasttt second and everyone around us got really excited, including us. There were three men in front of us who went all crazy. They they put out their hands to give us high five and hugs. My friends dad hugged and high fived them but we just stared. It was so awkward. They kept looking at us with their hands up in the air. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't see as there's anything you can do to make situations like that less awkward, unfortunately. I feel for all of you. Personally, I don't much care for shaking hands either, so if you figure something out pass it on to me.

*mary* said...

Personally, I see handshaking as an outdated custom that just needs to go. Watch some of the things people do with their hands, and touching every possible surface as they move about. Ick. Why should I- as someone who is very conscious of touching germy surfaces, take all the nasty who-knows-what off your hands just because it's some bizarre custom? No thanks. I'm with Howie. < /rant>

Great post!

Constructive Attitude said...

If you shake one guy's hand though, you have to shake others. And once you start doing that, then they think it's okay to do other things.

And then you're in a really sticky situation and you try to explain it to them and they're all like "Well I dont get it, if you cant touch me, then why did you shake my hand" and then you're all looking like an idiot and a freak.

I've been in the above situation, that's why I'm saying this.

So yeah.

I agree with you Mary, there are a TON of germs on people's hands. And it's safe to just stay away from touching men AND women.

MarjnHomer said...

your writing has improved. that said i just put my hand on my heart they get it and i dont have to explain thats only when hubby's there

Sabrina said...

I love this post, and this topic! I stopped shaking hands (with men who weren't related) about 2-3 years ago, and it's gone really great, Alhumdulillah! When a man extends his hand I say (verbatim) "I don't shake hands with men, it's in accordance with a religious tradition." Then they usually apologize, and I go, "You don't have to be sorry, there's no way you would have known that." And then we're all friends forever:) (Well, not really, but at least there's no bad blood.)TB has the same issues at work (except you know girls -- they can be so aggressive) and he tells them, "Please don't mind, but I don't touch women. It's a religious thing." Most of the time women will respect that, but sometimes they either don't care, or they just don't get it, and they'll like slap him on the shoulder or something. He gets annoyed because he's already made himself clear, and it's a matter of respect, you know? I think the bottom line is that if you explain something with conviction, confidence, and courtesy, people will understand. And if they don't, it's because their idiots, and there's little you can do in that case, except ask God to make things easy for you. At the end of the day, each of us has to do what we feel comfortable with. If another Muslim woman chooses to shake a man's hand that's between her and her Creator. And irrespective of what anyone believes, the most important thing is to listen, understand, and respect each other. If we can't do that, what makes us any different than the chimps who wage war on each other, bite off each other's extremities, and claw each other's faces off? Too much? Yeah, you're right. That was a little gross at the end. Well, my work here is done.
Again, great topic!

linlah said...

Thanks for sharing as I didn't know this. As far as Falling Up's question no matter what you do you're going to offend someone because you just can't make everyone happy. Do what's right for you.

Heckety said...

My daughter thinks that in America people must have much more tactile contact than here or in East Africa, where she grew up. Here you are what you are.
I still accidentally bow sometimes to people as that is what I did at parent teacher meetings in school in EA, and everyone just shrugs it away. I hate the huggy-kissy thing which some people do. Does that make me eccentric? Muslim? Offensive? Irish?
Why can't one just be what one is without others judging one- That's the problem my opinion...

thenerdqueen said...

Why don't you place your hands together and bow slightly? It's still formal, but means that you don't have to touch someone.

.:*aMbAr*:. said...

Love the pin!

And really loved learning about this, I had NO idea, obviously, super ignorant I know ;)

Little T said...

I had no idea! I will keep this in mind and spread the word.

Karyn Bernard (French Charming) said...

What an interesting and informative post! I love learning about the customs of different cultures. Thank you for sharing this one aspect of your culture, I did not know this!

Love and hugs,

supreem said...

usually, to avoid awkwardness, i take my hand to my chest, smile, and do a slight nod of my head, to acknowledge their greeting/handshake... if they look offended... i elaborate.... but sometimes, the awkwardness will remain. I've been bear hugged so many times, that I still don't know how to react... I've realized that I react to people depending on how they interact with me. :s

provoking invoking said...

thanks for this post. i've found that over the years i've become so reserved/introverted around men that this hardly comes up. but i used to just pull my sleeve down so that it would touch the man's hand instead of my skin.

to the people suggesting bowing- that wouldn't work because in Islam we can only bow to God...

phalanges said...

bottom line: muslims worry WAY too much. (or maybe it's just you and me.. and my friends.. actually all the muslim girls i know)

"sorry muslims dont shake hands with the opposite gender :) "
probably easier said than done.. i should try it in my interview tomorrow.

i dont know Allahu a3lam maybe it wouldnt be right in a professional sense. il7amdulillah here atleast they dont do any hugging or kissing! the british "who wants to be a millionaire" guy kisses women full on the lips :/ it's like..dude..