Getting Real with Da`wah: Those Touchy Situations


http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/3300029411/in/photostream/Imagine three scenarios.

The first: A young man sees a Muslim woman sitting behind a table that reads, “Free Qur’ans and Info on Islam,” on his campus. The young man has been wanting to learn more about Islam and thinks this as the perfect opportunity. In his desire to show his respect and acceptance of the Muslim woman behind the table, he enthusiastically approaches the Muslimah and introduces himself, sticking out his hand in introduction. She, having apprehended this moment, responds to his innocent gesture matter-of-factly. “I don’t shake men’s hands,” she states and leaves his hand hanging. He, confused and embarrassed, recoils his hand and begins to apologize if he had offended her while she tries to begin explaining something about modesty and gender. He leaves the table possibly more interested, but also, possibly turned off.

The second: The same young man is approaching that same Muslimah behind the da`wah (outreach) table. She sees him coming and prepares herself. As he approaches and sticks out her hand, she sticks hers out and passes something to him in their exchange. Instead of her hand, he feels something big, cold and hard. He looks at it and realizes… It’s a wide bar of chocolate! She smiles at his surprise and confusion and explains, “We emphasize professional relationships through modest interactions between genders… So instead of exchanging handshakes, we exchange chocolate!”

Their hands touching were completely intercepted by an unexpected delicacy. The Muslimah did not take something away from him while he was sincerely trying to greet her. Instead, he was given a gift and was then very receptive to hearing the reason for which he was gifted.

The third: The same young man is approaching and the Muslimah realizes she ran out of chocolate. As he approaches and sticks out his hand in greeting, she sticks hers out in a peace sign. “Can I give you a peace sign?” she asks. “We emphasize professional relationships through modest interactions between genders, so we love giving peace signs in place of handshakes!” He then mimics her peace sign, giving her a peace sign in return.

Some Muslims choose not to physically interact with adult members of the opposite sex who are not blood-related to them. When meeting someone for the first time, some Muslims may choose not to shake hands. When on campus, some Muslims dodge their bodies to avoid hugs. These moments often begin with trepidation on the part of the Muslim who chooses not to engage in physical touch and they end in confusion, embarrassment and sometimes offense on the part of the person who tried to extend respect and acceptance through culturally acceptable modes of physical expression.

However, it does not have to be awkward, confusing or embarrassing! For those who choose to follow the opinions barring physical touch with unrelated members of the opposite sex, it can be a moment of great da`wah! It just needs to be done with swag.

When it comes to handshakes, instead of pulling away and taking away the shared experience of a sign of acceptance in our culture, Muslims should think of creative ways to give something in exchange in order to honor and appreciate the kind gesture.

Hand situations might be easier to intercede for those who choose not to shake them, but what about hugs? At times, in their excitement, people throw themselves on others and there is little time to back away. Depending on the circumstance, perhaps a way to creatively deal with this in the moment is by shouting, “Air hug!” As one person moves forward for the embrace, the Muslim can back away with arms wide open, meeting their attempted hug with something similar—just without touching and plenty of space in between. At this point, the Muslim can explain that Islam encourages professional relationships between genders and as modesty is emphasized, Muslims seek ways to maintain that modesty and respect through different venues. After a couple of times, other people get the point and are able to figure out ways by which they can respect and value the concept of non-touch professional relationships.

Particularly with the air hug, some wonder if it would give the wrong message. However, it seems the communicated message actually reads: I’m off limits. However, even with those limits, I’m working within my religion to try to make sure I appreciate and honor your gesture of acceptance.

For Muslims who choose not to touch, every situation is going to be different and must be met with wisdom as Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us, “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided,” (Qur’an, 16:125).

Helping someone find the beauty in Islam through a Muslim’s character and actions is more commendable and righteous than causing someone to feel embarrassed or offended because of an inadequate da`wah move. If one chooses not to engage in physical touch, they should take it upon themselves to make sure they do it in a creative and engaging manner so that those curious about Islam will find themselves even more interested—not the other way around.

Each one of us has different experiences and insight. The above are just a few suggestions. Please share your collective wisdom on how to get real with da`wah as specifically related to inter-gender relations so we can learn from your wisdom!

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31 Comments

  1. Reehab says:

    I love this! Thank you Maryam :)

  2. Yasmin says:

    Jazakallah khair for these very helpful tips. I love the idea about chocolate!

  3. Siggy says:

    Much needed :) MashaAllah. Love the idea of giving choclates. I always smile when explaining so the person feels comfortable. I’m going to use the phrase about emphasizing professional relationships through modest interactions between the genders from now on. JazakAllahukhair!

  4. Yunus says:

    Salam Alaykum,
    May Allah reward you for this interesting article.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Salaam,
    I loved the article and who hasn’t been in that situation. A tip that I feel helped me is that when someone is approaching I flash a big sime and right when they are extending their hand I place mine above my heart ( a sign of respect in the ethiopian culture) and they always do the same thing automatically ;) and it shows a caring nature that noone has ever gotten offended,Alhamdoulillah!

  6. Shuruq says:

    Up until NOW this had been a major struggle! I shook hands with males and accepted hugs for the sole reason that I hadn’t yet figured out a creative and respectable way to give da’wah had I chose to refuse. So, I did compromise my religion, but Allah knew my intentions. This article is my answer and example now! From now on, iA, no more physical contact with males. And Allah grants victory to whomever He wills.

  7. Anas says:

    A Muslim brother once told me that during a group interview, he encountered 4 men and 1 woman, and he shook hands with all the men and not the woman. Just imagine how she must have felt. It was an awkward scenario for the brother as well. What do you think he should have done while taking into consideration he follows the opinion of no physical contact between the opposite gender?

    • BintKhalil says:

      Assalamu alaikum

      I emailed the recruiter before the interview telling her I didn’t shake hands with men out of religious modesty. When I met with the lady from HR, she actually thanked me twice for telling them beforehand. Alhamdulillah, I got the job.

      • Valimohammed says:

        Walekum as salaam

        Sr. BintKhalil, could you share the email that you wrote to the HR or just the part where you mentioned you don’t shake hands? I wish to check out the style of writing used as I am trying to improve my own writing skills.

  8. Muhammad Elijah says:

    ASA. May Allah reward you. I came to know about a Pakistani Allah-fearing guy who left his higher western education simply because he wanted to avoid shaking hands.

  9. Chad says:

    Chocolate instead of handshakes? I can just see the conversion rates going through the roof!

  10. Amatullah says:

    Great suggestions Maryam!

  11. Mahsa says:

    I loved these tips. Thank you so much for sharing Maryam :) JAZAK

  12. sana says:

    good ideas! the route i take is a hand over the heart with a sincere smile.

  13. 'Umr says:

    I’ve seen a local sheikh where a comfy knit glove on his right hand when giving lectures and such in instances where handshakes from both sexes prove overwhelming to treat everyone with kindness.

    Also, when around friends that we used hug we can make the conversation more comical, “can’t touch this” with a slick move and a smile then a gentle explanation to the still potentially offended friend. “I’m sorry, but I have a new respect for women and I would feel terrible publicly lowering your esteemed status” or something more swagger out. I made similar statements to some girls in college and they thought it was so sweet and started pressing their boyfriends to do the same.

  14. Megan Wyatt says:

    Masha’Allah how creative for a da’wah table moment. I think this is a great idea for such a situation. Who could say no to chocolate? :)

    What is even more important in this article that Maryam has displayed without discussing is being normal and not awkward.

    Not shaking hands, even with the explanation of why, along with a genuine smile is still preferable to people who look as if someone was trying to hand them a snake when offering to do something as common as hand shaking. What I appreciate the most is the displayed confidence to be yourself within boundaries.

  15. US says:

    You can try keeping a couple business cards handy which can replace the handshake!

  16. Muhammed says:

    Same as Bonnie, a smile while placing my hand above the heart usually does the trick; I also give a short explanation, and it’s never posed any problems.

    If it’s for a job interview or any other kind (an internship, college admissions, grad school, etc.) e-mail them beforehand just to let them know, unless you’re positive the interviewer will be of the same gender as yourself.

  17. Ayesha says:

    I was faced with that situation too but i shaked the mans hand unwittingly . ur idea is good but i thought hey why not wear a glove? Because the handshake is a very important gesture that can turn a heart away if handled unwell .

  18. Leah says:

    Excellent article with innovative ideas!!!! I hope you write a future article with suggestions on interacting with new Muslims. Sadly, a revert (who wears hijab and is very friendly) recently told me she feels like “running back to Christianity” because she has encountered rude, condescending Muslims. You’re such a talented writer, I’m sure you could iA persuade people to be more kind to new Muslims.

  19. Haq says:

    mashaAllah sr Maryam, you’re always trying to think outside the box :)

  20. Hajar Alwi says:

    Gotta love this! On my part, I’m sort of like blessed with sweaty palms so it serves as a valid excuse to stop the handshakes from coming in. lol~

  21. Imraah says:

    Masha allah.. Good article

  22. Abubakar sadiq yahaya says:

    Mashallah. The phrase “emphasize on proffessional relationtionship through modest interaction between genders” is very creative means of da’wah.
    Jazakallahu kyairi

  23. Kamaruddeen. AP says:

    Wonderful one 

    Creative ideas  Jazakallah Sister Maryam

    Imam Suhaib Webb talks about an incident in one of his speech, He goes to a bank and meets the lady at the counter…lady was surprised to see his name as William Suhaib Webb , she asked about him and he replied that he is a revert etc..

    The lady said she is also a muslim, and she wants to ask so many questions to him..She did not feel comfortable to ask with “so called Muslims”…she asked his email and the story goes on….

    After the explanation of the story suhaib webb said “Even though I could not hug that sister, I Emotionally Hugged her”

    This is the True Spirit of Sister-Brother Relationship in Islam

  24. bobette says:

    Haha,I always find myself in awkward situations were a man reaches out to shake my hand and I don’t know what to do so I pretend I don’t see it. I will have to try the chocolate thing. Or when a male friend steps forward to give me a hug and I take a step back for every step he takes. its. so. awkward.

  25. Interesting!
    JazakiAllah khairan for sharing sister Maryam :D

  26. furdos says:

    I have had the awkward “I don’t shake mens’ hands” situation plenty of times so this article was SUPER helpful!!

    JazakahAllahu Khairan for sharing!!!

  27. Abdullah says:

    As salamu alaikum wrwb everybody, I would like to mentionn here that even though this creativity is very very important one must know and stress usually and always, especially among people who recently accept Islam what the real priorities in situations are. To connect to people on a human level is more important in this case. Because of emphasis on these formalities in detriment of the priorities or the essence we muslims manage now and again to create formidable barriers between us and people and the Truth. Allah says he sent every prophet in the language of their community. Thus, we are effectively being and interacting with people as if it were on a different language… May Allah swt grant us wisdom and understanding.

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