For the uninitiated, Muslims are not supposed to come into physical contact with the opposite sex. It’s a matter of religious preference. And when one chooses to abide by religious principles, it is a big deal.
It’s thus no surprise that acting like a monk in these modern times is trying. It is especially tricky when dealing with colleagues and acquaintances who are not aware of this no-contact-between-opposite-sex observance.
The most common physical contact between a male and female is hand-shaking. While some may see it as a physical representation of verbal greetings, it presents an opportunity for momentary weirdness to ensue.
Example: Imagine a Muslim man who wants to follow the virtues of his religion, happily prancing into a meeting. In this instance, say he is meeting with a female delegate. In his mind, “I’m not supposed to touch females. I’m gonna just say hello and sit.” In her mind, “Ah, here’s the guy I’m meeting. Better shake hands.”
Once the female extends her hand to shake, the Muslim male has a split-second decision to make: (1) avoid physical contact and risk embarrassing your counterpart, or (2) just shake her hand and ignore your principles. And yes, remember that principles are what you are made of.
Of course, it is much easier if the Muslim here is a head of state, in which those who wants to meet him will be briefed on the religious decorum and cultural preferences. But chances are, the Muslim you are meeting is not one of the 194 heads of states. 195 if you include the Vatican. 196 Palestine.
I’ve personally seen such instances when my male Muslim friends try their best to avoid hand-shaking. It usually goes something like this:
Female: Hi, nice to meet you. (Extends hand to shake)
Male Muslim: Nice to meet you. (Hesitates to extend hand)
Female: Urmm.. (Smiles awkwardly. Embarrassed. Pulls hand away.)
Male Muslim: … (At that exact moment changes his mind and extends his hand for exactly 0.5 seconds)
Female: *Sigh of relief* (Extends hand to shake)
Male Muslim: … (And by this time 0.5 seconds is up and he pulls back his hand)
And all this happening in a mere 3-second time frame, to set a shaky start to your meeting.
Looking back at such scenarios, I think it’s time we have a guide to prepare for what may happen in the initial 3 to 4.5 seconds of a meeting. So here is my essential guide to avoid embarrassing scenarios in hand-shaking.
The Definitive Guide to Avoid Handshakes (from a male Muslim perspective)
1. It is all about the timing, and it starts before you meet the person. Make sure your impression reflects your stance. No, I do not mean wearing a turban with long robe and a walking cane in hand, but more along the lines of your body language.
2. When you come into the room, or make eye contact with the opposite gender for the first time, exchange verbal greetings, and immediately make sure your hands do not even seem like it is going to extend into a handshake position. Instead, when you say “Hello, nice to meet you,” just give a slight nod of acknowledgment to welcome the opposite gender. (Fig 1)
Fig. 1: Illustration of “no hands”+”the slight nod”. Credit: AwkwardRules.net
Fig. 2: Nod a second too long and you’ll send the totally opposite signal.
3. This pre-emptive combo move should mildly send a message to your female counterpart that you would prefer not to shake hands.
4. It’s not over yet. This is when you should be most alert. Sometimes your counterpart might be thinking about sushi/Bali/Mr Pitt and be totally unaware of the delicate signals that you are sending.
5. If you see any movement that even slightly indicates she wants to extend her hand, act fast. The faster you act, the faster she can decide, and the lesser the chance of any embarrassing handshake rejection. Acting quickly, you have three choices:
a. Act Authoritative: Insist that she remain where she is while you look for your seat/someone else. This can be easily achieved by saying “No” and covering it with another sentence. For example, you see she’s about to extend her hand. So you extend both your hands, palms downward, and say in a baritone voice, “No, please remain seated *smile*… Now where’s my seat again?”
Fig. 3: Unfortunately, the Vulcan salute is not an option here.
b. Act ‘Blur’ (local slang for playing innocent): Pretend you do not see her wanting to shake your hand, and quickly turn your back to find your seat (assuming your seat is not in your field of vision).
c. Act Classy: Once she’s about to extend her hand, immediately put your right hand over your heart, signaling that you are not going to extend your hand.
Fig. 4: Remember boys and girls, hand-over-heart is a polite gesture of sincerity. You can get away from a handshake by doing this and that slight nod of acknowledgment.
6. Once the meeting is over, cunningly repeat steps 1-5 to avoid another handshake.
How do you gracefully avoid such situations? Comments and suggestions welcome.