Your Questions

Why do some Muslims refrain from shaking hands with people of the opposite gender?

You might have found yourself in the comical situation where you reach out to shake the hand of a Muslim of the opposite sex and they put their hand up to their chest or simply smile at you!  If this has happened to you, you might have thought through a number of explanations, and you might have even mustered us the courage to ask them!

Many Muslims believe that physical contact with the opposite sex is unnecessary, discouraged, and for some, even prohibited. The reasoning behind this belief varies based on the person. Ultimately, however, it is not necessary to know the reasons why someone would not like a handshake to accept the fact that they don’t. Think about it this way: each person has the right to consent to how they are touched, and this includes actions that seem as innocent as holding or shaking hands.

The reality is that the mannerisms by which we greet each other vary vastly across cultures. Latinos, for example, often greet each other with a hug and a kiss on one cheek. Europeans kiss on both cheeks, and Arabs do three! So, there is no one way to greet a person! In Muslim societies, males and females often do not physically touch as a greeting, and it would be quite impractical and also uncomfortable to ask Muslims to conform to a norm that quite frankly doesn’t exist.

So what should we do instead? Easy!  Let the other person take the lead! If you are approaching a Muslim, watch them and see what kind of greeting they are leaning towards. If they put out their hand, go for it! You’ll find that many Muslims will do this, depending on their own cultural upbringing. If you see that they have not put their hand out (and expecting this might be your best bet!) then simply put your hand across your chest and smile! That shows them that you respect them, their faith, and it gets the job done!

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