Many brothers ask by email about the issue of shaking hands with women in professional settings where, they say, not doing so would harm or impede their ability to function. They may not get hired, promoted, or accepted in professional areas (such as law) where Muslim presence is essential.
I checked what some major contemporary traditional fuqaha, such as Shaykh Taqi Usmani and some of my teachers in Damascus, had to say, and they are very firm on this point. But the brothers who asked are saying that such answers belie a lack of understanding of “Western realities.” They are saying that it is not possible to function in professional Western work environments without shaking hands with women. What would you answer and advise about this issue?
Answered by: Mufti Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf
In the name of the Inspirer of truth.
No, it is not permissible to shake hands with women at all. There are many reports from the Prophet Sallallahi alayhi wasallam that he never shook the hands of any women, despite his status as a Prophet. All the allegiance (bay’a) he took was either without holding the hand or with a cloth tied around it. He explicitly informed the women when they extended their hands to him that he did not shake hands with women. (See Muhammad Ibn Sa’d, The Women in Madina, Chapter One: The manner in which the Messenger of Allah received women’s allegiance)
Hence, we can find no leeway to change this ruling. Many non-Islamic practices are rife in the business and corporate world. We are constantly asked about the permissibility of sitting at the same table with a client where alcohol is served; the permissibility of holding private meetings with women behind closed doors without any third person in the room, performing Zuhr instead of Jumu’ah if one is occupied in a meeting at the time of the Khutbah; shedding the hijab to seek employment; shaving the beard for such purposes and so on; not to mention usury and interest bearing loans. The list is endless. So, how does a person want to assimilate, and sell his hereafter for this transient world?
Yes, certain “fatwas” are to be found on these issues from so called scholars. Much of the religion has already been compromised in such a way. We are aware of a masjid in a city in California where “Islamic Dating” is promoted. Their practice is backed by seemingly convincing logical arguments which sounds very attractive, but how far can the matter be taken, and how much of the religion will remain if this course continues to be followed?
Nobody said it was easy to follow the din in the twenty-first century; whether one is in a Muslim country or the West. Didn’t the Prophet Sallalahu alayhi wasallam say that a time will come when a person following his religion will be like one holding on to a cinder, and did he not say this world is a prison for a believer and a Paradise for the non-believer. One must remember that through perseverance and refraining from sin (sabr ani ‘l-ma’siyah) there are great rewards to be gained, despite the apparent monetary or such losses one may have to incur in this world.
The regular American (since the issue of shaking hands with women is a greater problem in America) is normally very understanding and accommodating of other people’s religious requirements. If politely informed, they normally act with understanding and are prepared to be more accommodating.
If the scholars begin to offer discretion and allowance on certain issues which are rigid in the Shari’a under the excuse of changing times, then how will the original rulings in those issues ever be revived? The sunna and proper practices will be lost for ever and innovations will take their place. Those who attempt to adhere to the correct rulings of Shari’ah in these issues would feel isolated and weak.
Therefore, it must be made clear that the traditional jurists (muftis) who are not able to give discretions in such issues are not due to some short-sightedness or ignorance. It is merely to keep the religion intact and whole. Yes, if someone in certain situations is forced to act contrary to the sunna then that is a personal problem in which tawba (repentance) should be made.
Whoever fears Allah, Allah will make a way out for them.
And He knows best.
Mufti Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf