She stuck Her Hand Out – What do I do?
Question: What is the ruling for shaking hands? What does the exception that Sayyid Sistani mentions mean?
On Sayyid Sistani’s website there are two questions about shaking hands. One clearly states that it is impermissible and the other gives an exception. In the first question he is asked if shaking hands with girl (for boys) is allowed and he says: “It is not allowed.”
Sayyid Khamenei (FAQ) was asked about shaking hands and he responded: “Shaking hands is forbidden for non-mahrams.”
But, in the second question he is asked: “I am working in a company and supposed to shake hands with customers, male or female. If don’t do that, it would be considered impolite and there is a risk of losing my job and suffering the aftermath? What should I do?”
His answer was: “A Muslim man is not allowed to shake hands with a woman without a barrier, such as gloves, unless refraining from shaking hands will put him in a considerable harm or unbearable difficulty. In the latter case, he is allowed to shake hands to the extent of necessity only.”
This exception would not be different for other maraja’. The primary ruling regarding skin-to-skin contact between opposite genders is prohibition. Shaking hands is not an exception. But, there are circumstances which can constitute secondary rulings. One of these circumstances would be unbearable difficulty (haraj).
This unbearable harm stems from a concept that we have called haraj. This principle states that if one experiences an extreme difficulty, in this case the difficulty is a result of shaking hands, than the primary ruling can be transferred to the secondary ruling. Hence, shaking hands would be permissible. But, what is the scope of this principle? When does it apply? This is a subject that is outside of the scope of this article because of its technical considerations. For instance, the late Ayatollah Lankarani, may Allah be pleased with him, discussed this principle in his Dars-e Kharij lectures for over 10 sessions.
The simplified explanation of this principle is that the extreme difficulty can be described as a difficulty that a normal person cannot bear. The application of this principle falls on the shoulders of the mukallaf. But, one should be careful not to trick himself into thinking that every situation becomes extreme difficulty. Remember, discomfort and awkwardness DO NOT constitute unbearable difficulty. This is where Satan comes and whispers – anytime something is a little difficult he states: “Islam doesn’t want that for you.”
In every hand-shaking situation you must ask yourself if it would be too difficult for the normal person to bear. If it is, than according to this principle it would be permitted to shake hands. But, if it is not, than you have to bear the discomfort and awkwardness and explain to the person that a Muslim is not allowed to shake hands with the opposite gender. And Allah knows best.
Look at this picture, on the Olympic stage this sister refused shaking hands: