Return to site

Shaking Hands with the Opposite Gender

Is it permissible to shake the hand of a non-mahram?

Is it permissible to shake the hand of a non-mahram?

Muslim jurists normally prohibit shaking hands with opposite genders (or more specifically non-mahram - someone who a person has no immediate familial relationship) unless it is from behind a piece of cloth.1 However, in many present-day societies the act of shaking someone’s hand (muṣāfaḥa) is an expression of respect that promotes an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity. As such, the juristic understanding of shaking hands with the opposite genders poses a problem to some Muslims in the present-day society, particularly those who live in the West, as it can be deemed as being uncourteous when, due their upbringing and social custom, someone of the opposite gender extends their hand as a greeting and is met with rejection.

ICCI majority opinion

If shaking hands is part of the social custom of a particular place and is considered as being respectful and not lustful then it is permissible for a Muslim to shake hands with the opposite gender. However, if shaking hands is not a part of the social custom of a particular place and is not considered as being respectful (and instead is considered as lustful) then it is impermissible for a Muslim to shake hands with the opposite gender.

Justifications

The apparent indication of the Quran presents no explicit prohibition on shaking hands with the opposite gender: 

O Prophet! When the believing women come to you, pledging to you that they will neither associate anything with Allah ˹in worship˺, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their children, nor falsely attribute ˹illegitimate˺ children to their husbands, nor disobey you in what is right, then accept their pledge, and ask Allah to forgive them. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

This verse is ordering the Prophet to accept a pledge from all believing women. Like many other societies, pledges among Arabs were normally accepted and confirmed by shaking hands. Historical reports on how the Prophet accepted women’s pledge is not, however, decisively conclusive.

The sunna provides certain conditions on shaking hands with the opposite gender. This is clearly exemplified in the following narration: Samāʿa b. Mihrān asked Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq about a man shaking a woman’s hand. The Imam replied: 

“It is permissible for a man to shake hands with a woman who he is not allowed to marry [his mahram – one he has immediate familial relationship with, i.e., his sister, daughter, aunt, niece, or the like]. However, regarding a woman who he is allowed to marry, he should not shake her hand except from behind a piece of cloth, and he should not [lustfully] press her hand.”

As it can be seen from this narration, the act of shaking hands with a non-familial opposite gender is not completely prohibited, but rather it is only permitted when it is (a) from behind a piece of cloth, and (b) not done lustfully. It is apparent that this narration was revealed in a context where shaking hands with the opposite gender was deemed as a lustful act, and thus we find that the Imam emphasises the above-mentioned conditions. However, in the present-day context, the act of shaking hands with the opposite gender is not considered as a lustful action in many parts of the world but rather is an integral part of their social custom. Accordingly, the majority opinion of the ICCI is that it is permissible to shake hands with a non-familial opposite gender in parts of the world or contexts wherein shaking hands holds no connotation of lustfulness or sexual harassment. For instance, shaking hands with the opposite gender is part of the social custom of UK and signifies an etiquette of respect. However, in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia shaking hands with the opposite gender is not viewed in such way. As such, it would be permissible for a Muslim to shake hands with the opposite gender in the UK, but not in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the basic normative assumption in Islam is of permissibility (also known as aṣālat al-ibāha the principle of premissability), according to which every act is permissible unless there is an explicit prohibition against it. Consequently, as there is no absolute prohibition of shaking hands with the opposite gender, it can be concluded that in line with the ‘principle of permissibility,’ shaking hands with the opposite gender is permissible. Furthermore, Sharia recognises the importance of following the social custom (ʿurf) of any given place so long as it is not explicitly prohibited by the Sharia. Since shaking hands with opposite genders is part of the social custom of certain places and cultures around the world and is not explicitly prohibited by the Sharia, it can be concluded that according to ʿurf a Muslim can shake hands with the opposite gender.

Finally, reason and ethical considerations lead to the notion that if shaking hands with the opposite gender is a sign of respect and courtesy for some people, then in such circumstances it must be considered as an ethically praised human conduct that correlates with Islamic Sharia.

ICCI Minority Opinion

A Muslim can shake hands with the opposite gender from behind a piece of clothing. In cases of necessity, if a person of the opposite gender is to offer a handshake to a Muslim, then they may respond by shaking hands.

Justifications

1. The Quran states the following:

O Prophet! When the believing women come to you, pledging to you that they will neither associate anything with Allah ˹in worship˺, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their children, nor falsely attribute ˹illegitimate˺ children to their husbands, nor disobey you in what is right, then accept their pledge, and ask Allah to forgive them. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.4

This verse is ordering the Prophet to accept a pledge from all believing women. Like many other societies, pledges among Arabs were normally accepted and confirmed by shaking hands. Historical reports on how the Prophet accepted women’s pledge is not, however, decisively conclusive. 

2. According to the sunna opposite genders can shake hands from behind a cloth. This is clearly exemplified in the following narration:

Samāʿa b. Mihrān asked Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq about a man shaking a woman’s hand. The Imam replied: 

“It is permissible for a man to shake hands with a woman who he is not allowed to marry [his mahram – one he has immediate familial relationship with, i.e., his sister, daughter, aunt, niece, or the like]. However, regarding a woman who he is allowed to marry, he should not shake her hand except from behind a piece of cloth, and he should not [lustfully] press her hand.”5

The apparent indication of this report clearly states that a Muslim can only shake hands with their mahram and cannot shake hands with a non-mahram, unless it is from behind a piece of clothing (such as gloves).

3.  At times Muslims are faced in situations where they are offered handshakes by a person from the opposite gender. In such situations, Sharia allows a Muslim to accept the offer of a handshake due to general principles that can be derived from scriptural sources of the Quran and sunna, together with reason. For example, if due to the social custom of a particular region a person offers a handshake to a Muslim from the opposite gender, then it is recommended (or at times even necessary) for a Muslim to respond by shaking their hand, as not responding can potentially lead to the disrespect of Islam and Muslims. In cases of necessity, certain primary Sharia regulations can be forgone in favour for secondary Sharia regulations. This can be supported by the following Quranic verse:

He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; but if one is driven [to it] by necessity – neither driven by desire nor exceeding immediate need – then surly Allah is All-forgiving, Most Merciful.6

Therefore, the apparent indication of this verse for example indicates that the consumption of pork is primarily prohibited, however it also indicates that in times of necessity (i.e., if a person is dying of hunger and they have no access to other food), the Quran permits its consumption. Likewise, the Sharia primarily prohibits shaking hands with the opposite gender, unless its occurs from behind a piece of clothing. However, in cases of necessity it allows opposite genders to shake hands even without the aid of a piece of clothing.

 

 

References

1.  https://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01207/ 

2.  Quran 60:12. 

3.  Muḥammad bin Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 5:525.

4.  Quran 60:12. 

5.  Muḥammad bin Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 5:525.

6.  Quran 16:115.

 

All Posts
×

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OK