Saturday 3 October 2009

Muslimah at Work - Shaking Hands 2 and Meeting Sisters

Not long ago I wrote about the issue of Muslim women shaking hands with men at work and how I had long struggled with this, sometimes politely declining, at other times using avoidance tactics and in between losing my confidence and just giving in.

When I moved to the team I currently work with at the start of the year, I felt like I was at a low point in my career and had lost confidence, so I found myself using avoidance tactics like standing behind others and even rushing away. Yesterday, I really took the biscuit though. I turned up for a presentation and one of the male team members (who has been here a week) came forward to greet me and shake hands.

I jumped and turned away from him with a horrified expression and then smiled rather sheepishly and walked off. I felt terrible and everyone had seen. My colleague (and friend) agreed that it looked very bad and that perhaps he thought I had behaved in this way because he was black.

I went back to him and apologized and explained that I don’t shake hands. He said that he understood and was very gracious above the whole thing. This morning I bought him a giant triple chocolate cookie from the canteen much to his amusement.

I was tired yesterday and feeling weak from trying to make up fasts without waking up in the morning to eat, I reacted instinctively without thinking or looking at who I was engaging with. It made me think about the whole handshake thing again though. How I need to keep reminding myself that other people have no influence over me, I don’t need to feel intimidated or embarrassed, that only Allah has power over me and that I need to follow his commands in my everyday life, including my working life. It reminded me I need to have some backbone and remain calm and just say “I don’t shake hands, but it is very nice to meet you”. As I am English this would usually be preceded with an apology (we apologise for everything, even existing), but I decided that I have to try and break this habit in this instance, as the commands of Allah are not something for us to apologise about.

On a more positive note, I met a young sister on the way to the prayer room at work, struggling along with a big box. She saw me and stopped me to ask if there was anywhere she could go to pray. I showed her the prayer room and the direction we pray and she was over the moon. Her office had recently joined ours and in her previous building she had been the only Muslimah. Her manager had given her the key to an empty room to pray. She was pleased to meet another hijabi, I told her there were dozens in this office, because of the nature of the area we serve (one of the biggest Muslim communities in Europe). We swapped e-mails, so I could send her details of the e-mail list of Muslims one of the brother’s manages to keep everyone in the know regarding salaah times and arrangements.

Mash’Allah, although the community of Muslim’s isn’t yet as vibrant here as in my first office (where we were a really supportive, diverse, positive little community), it is beginning to take off with more of the sisters slowly getting to know each other and the brothers organising a collection to pay for an outside imam on Fridays. One brother even fought with the others to ensure that space is left at the back for the sisters to join Jumaah prayers (although none of the sisters actually went, they all prayed elsewhere).

One day this week, I went to pray Dhuhr and a lady was using the room to have a quiet meal. I asked her if it was okay for me to pray for a few minutes and she said to go ahead. As she left, I told her she could stay and she replied “no I was going anyway”. But as she left she remarked “I really respect you guys for what you do” gesturing at the prayer mat. Alhamdulillah I always liked the idea of Muslim’s praying in public because our prayer is so beautiful and serene (even when our concentration is not perfect) that it is a kind of dawah in itself. Insh’Allah, I hope my sisters here continue to inspire others.

5 ways to evade shaking non-mehram hands
Shaking hands with a non-Mahram: Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi
How do you avoid shaking hands?

It was narrated that Ma’qil ibn Yassaar said: the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him.” ~ At-Tabarani in Al Kabir No. 486


  1. I understand what you mean about feeling apologetic. I used to feel this way at times when people would react to my wearing of the hijab.

    But now, after having lived in a cosmopolitan environment for three years (Singapore- with people of many races), when I return to the UK I don't feel apologetic at all. I know that people can live in harmony. If anyone has a 'problem' with hijab, I just think that it is their problem, not mine.

    It is nice when things eventually turn out well. I'm happy that you were able to go and apologise for the situation and that apologies were accepted.

  2. A friend of mine was in the same situation, except it was her male boss...ouch! anyway, she explained her reasons, and was still able to keep her job. Alhamdulillah!

  3. Asalaamu Alaikum

    Check this out.