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Sorry, I Don't Shake Hands!

By: M. Fatima

It’s a normal day for a hijabi Muslimah. She goes to her University/ College/ workplace, dressed modestly, aware that most of the people who see her are under the impression that women are oppressed in Islam and consider her hijab a sign of oppression. She realizes that she has a great responsibility, and she can play some role (even if just a little) in trying to change that perception .

She is doing all that and more, trying to follow sunnah as much as she can, when suddenly, at the end of a meeting, or while sitting in class, a guy extends his hand towards her….

This is the time when the following hadith will most likely cross her mind:

The Messenger of Allah said: “It would be better for one of you to have himself stabbed on the head with an iron nail than to touch a non-mahram woman.” (al-Tabarani, with a sound chain of narrators)

Many of us, men and women alike, have been in a similar situation more than once. What is one to do when you are trying to follow sunnah of kindness and courtesy, and of respecting people (be it muslims or non muslims), when the act of refusing an extended hand is considered extremely rude in the society we are living in?

The truth is there are very few Muslims who will actually excuse themselves. And of the small percentage who will, there is even a smaller percentage who will not end up hurting the feelings of the man/woman whose extended hand they refused. It will most likely turn into an awkward situation.

It’s not an easy sunnah to follow and it may seem to be the lesser of two evils to just take the extended hand,  than risking offending the other person and in turn creating a negative image of Islam.

This is the time when the following ayaat SHOULD cross our minds:

 ”It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance” (Al-Qasas, 28:56).

If we realize that it is not in our hands to change someone’s perception and if we realize that we can just try but there is just so much we can do to bring someone to Islam (or change their perception at the least), we will actually stop arguing about religion, stop getting defensive during “religious” debates and we will also start doing certain things like refusing to shake  hands with non mahrams.

Practicing Islam can be extremely easy at times and extremely hard at other times. Just think about all the hardships the Sahabah faced when they came to Islam.

Hazrat Bilal Radhiallahu Anhu (who was a slave), had his neck tied with a rope and his master Master Umayyah ibn Khalaf ibn Safwan would make children and ignorant people drag him naked on the hot sands of the city. During his visit to Taif, Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself was pelted with stones until he bled so much that his shoes filled with blood.

And we here are afraid of a little social awkwardness?

How can we expect the reward of Jannah without working hard for it? Even in this life, success only comes with handwork, determination and steadfastness, so how can we accept the path to Jannah to be so easy?

It just a simple realization that we, and not anyone else, are responsible for our actions in the Akhirah. It is our duty to follow the command of Allah and this is all  there is to it!.

Allah taala tests everyone, and the tests get harder the more we try to seek His pleasure.

Every single time I ve made a decision to bring a change in my life solely for the pleasure of Allah, I’ve always been tested. If I am able to stay just as firm during that testing period, Allah makes the rest of he journey so easy, SubhAnAllah, in ways that are miraculous to say the least.

Let me end this article with a personal anecdote:

I ve always been particular about not shaking hands with non mahrams. I spent a greater part of my youth in a Muslim country so shaking hands was never an issue. But when I moved to North America and started university here, I too was faced with this difficult decision more than once. Needless to say those were the most awkward moments of my life.

Little did I know that there was even a bigger moment to come where I would no longer be able to stay strong. It was the time of my graduation. There were 100s of students graduating and even a bigger audience to see it happen. Every single person (which included many hijabis) shook hands with the chancellor (who was a male) before taking their degree. I waited and hoped to see at least one Muslim woman who wouldn’t do so, but it never happened. Every single person shook hands.

When it was my turn, I was extremely nervous but there was no way out this time. When its awkward with one or two people around, imagine how horrible it would be to decline a handshake on a stage in front of a huge audience? I just didn’t have it in me this time. As I approached the Chancellor, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him slightly fold his hands. When I came up to him, he simply nodded  and the Vice president, who was a lady extended her hand and I shook it!.

SubhanAllah! Allah rewarded me by making an impossible time easy for me, because I took a stand wherever else I could. I ended up being the only person out of all the graduating students from the entire university, who did not shake hands with the Chancellor.

So have faith, but also believe that you will be tested, and not just once!  If you are not strong enough to do so, at least believe in your heart that it is wrong, ask for forgiveness, and make dua to Allah to make it easy for you.

Just remember, that every time you refuse a hand, you teach more than one person about this aspect of Islam. They may find it offensive but you may have just saved the rest of the Muslims he/she will ever meet from going through this awkward situation. You, my friend, will end up getting the reward for all those times.

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