Since many Muslims do not shake hands with the opposite sex, but some do, should I extend my hand or not?

+8 votes
I am a female, non-Muslim attorney.  In my work, I often meet several other attorneys at a time, and the accepted and expected greeting is to shake hands with each of them as we do introductions.  How should I handle it when it seems likely that one of the males I am greeting may be Muslim?  It seems quite rude to go around and shake hands with everyone except one person.  And even to do that, I would have to assume that I can accurately guess someone's religion from his name, appearance, skin tone, etc., which has all its own problems and just feels wrong.  (For example, many people assume from my Italian heritage and last name that I am Catholic, but I am not.)  Complicating the exercise is the fact that I practice law in a region with both a large Muslim community and a large Chaldean (i.e., Christian) community.  While I have learned to recognize some differences between these communities in terms of common last names, I have no confidence in my ability to "guess" accurately.  Also, as your excellent general answer about shaking hands explains, some Muslims do choose to shake hands in such a situation, so I don't want to assume.  

In the past, I have always just extended my hand and figured that if the male I am greeting is a Muslim who doesn't shake hands with women, he will decline.  No one has ever declined in a business setting, which makes me wonder if I am putting someone in an uncomfortable situation where they feel pressured to do something they don't want to.  (I first learned of the custom in a more casual setting where the man just said, "I don't shake."  Not understanding the cultural reasons and assuming he had a fear of germs, I stupidly offered him a fist-bump.  He explained.)  

How to handle this ambiguity appropriately in a business setting where hand shakes are expected?  I don't wish to offend anyone either way.

1 Answer

+4 votes
Oh, writer of this question... How I wish there were more people like you in the world :)
I am almost in tears thinking that finally someone out there... even though on the opposite side of my dilemma understands the feeling I face very often...

Ha so one thing at a time...

Should you extend your hand to anyone you are sure is a Muslim. A bold move would be to ask about their policy on handshakes outright... this would also make for a great ice breaker and really put you in their good books because they would think of you as someone who knows of their culture and traditions and thus dropping their guard with whatever matter is at hand.

You could also shake hands with females only and if any males extend their hands only then reciprocate or use the line above... in case they too succumbed to social pressure and are shaking hands for that matter. Something I often do is occupy my hands with something and compensate as much as I can verbally and with other gestures... not to make anyone feel uncomfortable in my company.

Regarding your fist bumping buddy, May Allah reward him greatly...I can only imagine how hard and awkward it must have been for him because I have been in countless situations like this where I have had to decline a handshake and then had to apologize a trillion times because the LAST THING I WANT ANYONE TO THINK OF ME IS THAT I AM WEIRD OR RUDE.

With regards to how to proceed... I TRULY don't have the holy grail of answers. But you can use lines like, "I hope you don't get offended, I assumed you are Muslim and many of my Mulsim male clients often refrain from handshakes". By doing so; I see nothing but good come out of that it in your favor.

otherwise, may God shower his mercy on you in this world and hereafter for being so caring and thoughtful of this situation that you went ahead, spent your time and wrote in...

All the best with everything... Admin.
by (6.5k points)
Many thanks for your guidance.  The important thing is that we are meeting each other, making each other's acquaintance, doing business together, and making friends.  I am glad I found your page.  Peace.
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