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Handshake between opposite genders


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Author Topic: Handshake between opposite genders  (Read 1563 times)
Zeynab
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« on: September 23, 2008, 08:27:53 am »

IS THERE ANY PLAUSIBLE REASON FOR DISALLOWING HANDSHAKE BETWEEN OPPOSITE GENDERS?

Though Islam came to us almost 1500 years ago and the culture of handshake began in the 16th century, the prohibition on shaking hands to greet the opposite gender has started quite recently.   I won't say I am outright opposed to this prohibition, but the clerical circles are surely over-reacting to it by incorrectly arranging their priorities.

Also, Muslim men make a big fuss about shaking hands with Muslim women, yet they freely shake hands with Western women.  That brings a glaring contradiction in the handshake issue to begin with.

We know that as Muslims, what counts eventually is one's intent (niyyah).  So why should a handshake with the opposite gender be so upsetting if the intention is straight?

Indeed, even looking at a woman from a distance with lewd intention is wrong, while shaking hands with her simply as a greeting with decent intent is fine.
 
It saddens me to know that most people of our community forget the great emphasis our beautiful Faith lays upon intentions and dwell entirely on superficial ideas at face value.
 
While numerous serious violations go unnoticed, insignificant matters that have virtually no practical bearing on ethics are trumpeted loudly.  I don't think I've heard of a single case where a man may have tried to seduce a woman with a handshake, nor anyone getting tempted with a mere handshake.  A person who can actually get sexually tempted by a simple handshake seriously needs professional help.  They cannot be rated as normal.  If a man and a woman have designs on each other and their conscience is too weak to grasp the concepts of decency and modesty as instructed in the Glorious Quraan, they will most likely indulge in immorality anyway - handshake or no handshake.

Those men or women who voluntarily desire to refrain from shaking hands with the opposite gender, have every entitlement to adhere to their values.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that either.  But over-emphasis on its prohibition as general law is what creates exaggerations and falsifications.
 
Muslims today seem to find handshake with the opposite gender a lot more troubling than adultery and fornication.  Whereas the truth of the matter is, the Glorious Quraan forbids adultery / fornication and gives us no reason to presume that a simple handshake as a greeting with the opposite gender is immoral.

Recently, the owner of a Turkish hotel sacked all its male employees and replaced them with a female staff because these men were constantly getting involved in lewd acts with female European tourists.  As Muslims, we ought to look upon this as a serious violation.  Yet, none of our Muslim lawmakers expressed any shock nor regrets over this shameful practice.  But they seem to have plenty of time for lengthy discussions as to who shook hands with whom.  Totally misplaced priorities!

Symbolically, handshake is not meant to be a romantic gesture by any stretch of the imagination.  Handshake is a purely platonic symbol of goodwill.  It is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, completing an agreement and a standard greeting in all business situations.  Its purpose is to convey trust, balance, and equality.  Handshake is said to have originated as a gesture showing that 'the hand holds no weapon' indicating friendship and no antagonism.

The Imams and "ulemas" talk on the issue of handshakes in the light of "Quraan and Sunnah" (as they put it), yet as I already mentioned, the Quraan makes no such references as elaborated and propagated by the clerics.  As for the Sunnah, the reference is to the Hadith.  Needless to mention that each time the clergy unanimously decide to taboo any practice (no matter how harmless it maybe), their modus operandi is to either issue a loud fatwa or to scribble a quick Hadith and pin it up on the Prophet (pbuh).  From every research I've done, I learned that handshakes did not exist in 7th century Arabia and continued not to exist till much later.  Even today when Arabs meet, their emphasis is more on hugging on both sides by touching shoulder to shoulder and often a peck on the cheek.  This is a customary greeting exchanged by persons of the same gender, not with the opposite gender, which is understandable because its physical gestures are far more intimate than a handshake.  But this has been the old Arab style of greeting.  So, I don't know on what basis the clergy claim that the Prophet (pbuh) never shook hands with the opposite gender nor permitted others to do so when at that time the culture of handshakes was hardly prevalent neither in the East nor in the West.

In the old Western society, the common greeting among aristocrats, elites and commoners was bowing.  The culture of handshake is supposed to have come as late as the 16th century.  In fact, according to Islamic values, handshake is much more acceptable than bowing because as Muslims, we are to bow only before Allah (The Highest) and none else.

I quote some intereting excerpts of the brief history of handshake from Joe Ingram's 'Handshake' article:

"Britain was Catholic until King Henry VIII and the population became more Protestant with Elizabeth I sealing the religious fate of the Empire during her rule.  However, the tradition of bowing, much like holidays that were Catholic/Pagan and exist today without reference to the Catholic or Pagan origins, persisted at Royal Courts and in colonial society hundreds of years after the religious separation of England from Rome.  As such, Colonists bowed during the 17th and 18th centuries.   

Many writings trace the tradition to medieval times, others have said it occurred in the 16th century.  In 1978, Philip A. Busterson's wrote Social Rituals of the British (a book I have not been able to locate anywhere) and in this book he claims that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the hand shake to the British court in the late 1500's.

However the hand shake came into being, it had disappeared from British, and in turn Colonial culture by the 18th century.  The period that was depicted in John Adams.  Maybe it never caught on.  But bowing was what folks did in the 1700's.

Bowing then faded away in the United States.  By the middle of the 19th century, it had all but disappeared from American life.  No one knows for certain, but the prevailing theory is that it was a combination of events.  America was a new nation and during the years just after the end of the Revolution, Americans were hard at work discarding anything British.  Americans were also overwhelmingly Protestant.  And not Episcopalians, but Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists and other true believers of a clean break from Roman Catholic ways.  Relocated English, Welsh, and Scotts that believed in the teachings of Luther and had founded their own religions.

These Colonists, after winning their independence from the British Crown and from Rome years before wanted nothing to do with the traditions of either.  As such, bowing and other European traditions faded from American culture.   

It was during this period that descriptions, drawings, and then photos of men shaking hands can be seen.  No longer is the Royal bow and curtsey nor the Catholic kneel part of daily life in the United States."


Thus, handshake is purely a non-romantic, straight forward, friendly and formal gesture.  It evolved with time as the imperialistic and orthodox British culture began to fade particularly from the American society.  Gradually, with America's dominance and influence growing around the world, the British too replaced many of their medieval customs with those commonly practiced in America.  One of these changes was shaking hands instead of bowing.
 
I hope our Muslim brethren grow up and begin to understand these benign issues in their correct context.  Instead of wasting time on such unnecessary matters, I hope they start working towards eradicating the real detrimental practices that are ruining the community e.g. corruption, cheating, rape, murder, sectarian killing, political violence, violence against women, children and elderly, lack of education and so on.
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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2008, 02:43:59 am »

Very cool post.  Well, I always knew handshake is not prohibited in Islam.  But you are really right that it didn't even exist in the 7th century, so I too don't know how the imams can say that it wasn't allowed in the Prophet's (pbuh) time.  And thanks for the history of handshakes.  It really makes matters much clearer.
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2008, 02:21:13 am »

MaashAllah, a very important topic with some great analysis.  I agree with it at every step.  I must send this around to those in my e-mailing list.  Thanks and peace, sister, and God bless.  ameen.
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2010, 03:36:56 am »

This was a good read.  Sister Zeynab has put it from a very practical perspective considering how the society exists at present in this 21st century.  This weekend we had our Islamic lecture-day gathering at my place .. 8 friends were invited but 6 turned up and me, 7 of us in all.  The topic was whether or not it's right to disallow handshakes between non-mehram men and women.  I didn't know that we had an article on it here, so did a search before our meeting and found it.  It helped us in the discussion.  But a couple of guys disagreed saying it makes some men and women uncomfortable and of course they went on the usual way.   I also don't like the double standards practiced in this regard which sister Zeynab rightly pointed out, that many Muslim men don't hesitate shaking hands with non-Muslim women but their modesty gets the better of them only with Muslim women.  Those guys who opposed handshakes didn't have an answer to this issue.  However, just for my own knowledge, I would like to have your views only in connection with the Quran.  To what extent do you think a practice like handshake between opposite genders would conform with the Quran? 
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« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2010, 03:21:10 am »

However, just for my own knowledge, I would like to have your views only in connection with the Quran.  To what extent do you think a practice like handshake between opposite genders would conform with the Quran? 

yes, I'm also eager to get a feedback of this question from either sisters cat or zeynab ..

Br. Pt, mubarak for your continuing weekly lecture arrangements.  Great idea.  I wish I could do the same but with kids our schedule gets so cramped up.
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2010, 03:35:59 am »

Yeah sure, I can take care of your query br. pt.  But if u can please wait till tomorrow and I'll be back with a write-up, InshAllah.  Today was another hectic day with the kids and my housefolks.  Just too tired, need to rest and get some sleep Smiley
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2010, 03:38:01 am »

Ah! ok .. I'll let sister Cat take care of that ..  thanks sis! Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2010, 10:00:41 am »

Br. Pt, Salaam and my profuse apology for the delay in answering your query.
It needs a thoughtful answer.  Firstly, most people would be of the opinion that the Quran does not say anything about handshakes between men and women, so it's not Haram.  Theoretically that's correct because the Quran does not say it.  Moreover, handshake wasn't a gesture of greeting in that era nor in that society. 

We need to consider handshakes between men and women from the view point of the Quranic values of modesty.  In that case, handshake between opposite genders would be an issue to think about.  However, I wouldn't look at it as a prime issue, and indeed every individual can choose their own reasoning and sense of judgment. 

As a person living in the West in the present era, I would not object to it.  My reasoning would be that Allah judges us in accordance with our intent or niyyah. Therefore, for example, if I visit my bank, I wouldn't hesitate shaking hands with the bank's financial adviser even if the person is a man.  But in Muslim countries where both social & business relations between the 2 genders are distant, I wouldn't shake hands with the bank's male adviser or manager.  Thus, the social setup also plays a very important part. 

Coming to the most important aspect which needs reflection and far-sightedness.  Handshakes between opposite genders may seem perfectly harmless at 'face value' and in most cases it's just that.  However, discouraging it carries a definite purpose and principle.  Though handshake itself is harmless, it could serve as a stepping stone toward greater liberalism within a society.  This liberalism could further serve as a gateway for still greater transgressions such as widespread promiscuity.  It should be understood that permissiveness in a society does not come around overnight.  Rather, it happens one step at a time.  Thus, the best way to control it would be to thwart the very first step.  I repeat, handshake by itself is a very innocent gesture, but it could open the door to greater freedom and so on. 

Briefly, it depends upon how far-sighted one is, and how much one worries about those thoughts becoming a reality in future. 
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« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2010, 08:56:07 am »

Though handshake itself is harmless, it could serve as a stepping stone toward greater liberalism within a society.  This liberalism could further serve as a gateway for still greater transgressions such as widespread promiscuity.  It should be understood that permissiveness in a society does not come around overnight.  Rather, it happens one step at a time.  Thus, the best way to control it would be to thwart the very first step.

Dear sis .. this is so correct.  I really thank u in plenty for always coming up with such valid and vital points.   

Briefly, it depends upon how far-sighted one is, and how much one worries about those thoughts becoming a reality in future. 

Yes exactly.  And such far-sightedness is a very meaningful feeling.
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« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2010, 06:55:01 am »

JazekAllah khair sister Cat.   This is indeed a very sensible perspective.  I had similar views in mind, just wanted a confirmation by comparing it with the opinion of others.  We will, Insh'Allah, be having our meeting tomorrow at a friend's house.  I will jot down your points and briefly re-cap this issue before we start the discussion on the day's agenda, which is, Islamic dress code.  I printed sister Zeynab's article on this topic which she put up here in the Quran board.  It's been most helpful.  
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