Interaction between Men & Women, Can Men and Women Shake Hands?
I have a two questions
1) Dealing with Men: Is casual talk with men allowed? As long as nothing indecent is being discussed is it ok to share a laugh with men? Is it ok to make male friends? This would include sharing their problems and also sharing your own. Without any cheesiness and cheapness is it ok to do so? Or do you think it is not possible to remain within decent limits of Islam once you make him a friend. Is working or studying in a male dominated environment allowed where only professional dealing and interaction takes place? Is working for job that requires a lot of social interaction with clients e.g. lunches and dinners wrong for women?
2) In the international corporate scenario, shaking hands is a norm and when Muslims are hired they also feel obliged to abide by this norm. Such hand shake is solely on business terms and most of the times it is so mechanical that is does not even feel wrong. However, what should a Muslim woman do in such a case? Simply refuse to shake hands, try to limit it to the minimum, take some time to explain to her colleagues why she feels she can do her work well even without the hand shake. If you have the chance of representing your country in the outer world with your good work and progress should you limit yourself because the job involves the handshake norm? Would an entire nation not stagnate due to such hesitations? If a foreigner guest or tourist unconsciously extends his hand for handshake when you are least expecting it, you would out of courtesy yet hesitantly reciprocate. Later on you could explain to him why he shouldn’t repeat so. Is it better not to reciprocate and let the foreigner feel humiliated and embarrassed but save your palm from hellfire?
Let me answer these questions one by one. While I do them, let me warn you that these are personal opinions of mine based on my honest understanding on the issue.
1) Let me start by mentioning what to me are technically the differences a lady has to observe while interacting with a Mahram male and a non-Mahram male. The Mahram male are the people a woman cannot get married to. She can be alone with them and travel with them. If she has beautified herself, she can disclose her adornment to them without being obscene. With non-Mahrem men, a woman can get married. She cannot be alone with them, especially in a journey where they have to spend night together. When she has embellished herself, she cannot disclose any part of her beautified self except for what is naturally apparent, which includes (the possibility of showing) hands, feet, and face. Whether she is in the company of Mahrem men or non-Mahrem men, a lady has always got to cover her chest properly with an extra piece of cloth and both men and women have to keep their gazes and thought processes clean (husband being an exception to this rule).
The idea behind all these etiquette of interaction is to not allow any possibility of sex-related thoughts and feelings crossing the minds and hearts of the two interacting genders and to prevent the possibility of fornication.
What has been mentioned above are the real Shari’ah rules. What you have asked me to comment on are the problems of application of these rules wherein there could always be more than one opinion. While forming opinions, one has to be careful in neither being careless about the rules and objectives of the Shari’ah nor to be too inflexible to make the normal life difficult to lead. The rules of the Shari’ah are mentioned in surah al-Nur (24:30-31). The Almighty’s concern that the normal life of Muslims should not be disrupted because of these rules is also mentioned in the same surah (24: 58-61).
Other than what I have mentioned above, you and I are equals in deciding about what should be done in our contemporary times to apply these rules in our practical life. Some people are likely to apply the rules more stringently while others are going to be more concerned about maintaining a viable balance between practicability and the concerns of Shari’ah. Nobody should be unnecessarily critical about the other person’s opinion when no clear rule is being violated.
If one would want to be careful and practical at the same time, I guess, one would exchange important information with a member of the other gender, at times be of help to him/her as well, share a joke or two within limits of decency, but would constantly remain on guard about his/her feelings to ensure that they remain within limits of decency. I have a feeling that remaining completely segregated is sometimes an easier option, but in many cases is not viable one. And in my opinion it is not even highly recommended by our religion. However, to remain in touch with members of the opposite gender and to continue be on guard is a big challenge and one must try constantly to ensure that it is achieved.
2) I think not shaking hands is a better option. However, it is not always possible. Shaking hands in the manner you have suggested is most certainly not something completely prohibited, but it is not desirable either. One should do as best as one can to avoid it. However, if one is caught in a situation where it becomes unavoidable, it should be done as ‘harmlessly’ as possible.