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To shake or not to shake? - part 2

Glad you are back for part 2 of handshaking shenanigans!




You want a big bear hug? *Erm, No*


Did I already spoil it by the title? Early on in my placement training I arranged a meeting with a colleague from a different team to gauge some information on a project I was working on. We met onsite (a depot/construction site), and he seemed quite an upbeat character. He went in for a handshake and to which I declined.


There was a moment's pause.


Then, with a huge grin he ecstatically said, “how about a hug?”


I stood there.

A moment of silence again.


Erm, no.


I am not sure if it was a joke or not. I kept silent. Looking back, I am not sure how to describe my own face, but it was like those teachers who smile with an unimpressed face.


I cannot recall if I said anything back, (a perplexed no perhaps), but it was definitely written all over my face and he laughed it off.


We came to the end of the meeting, to say our farewells. And he said it again!


I was not having it to be honest. I just stepped backwards and he responded, “Ah na, I am only joking”.


I didn’t see the punch line.

It was such an awkward encounter, I only met him once so it was not like I had the time to explain anything. I thought I would not meet him again and did not really think much of it.


I was wrong.


I met him a few years later, where I ended up in a team close to his for a few months. I was onsite with my placement manager looking at a prototype design and he was passing by.


He greeted my manager.


How? He literally picked him up from behind at the belly. It was so uncomfortable to watch! He lifted my completely alarmed placement manager off the floor, and he went completely red in the face. It was unprofessional to say the least.


As soon as he stopped lifting my manager off his feet, he swayed into a side hug at me. Already a bit stunned, I literally froze in my spot.


It was all too late.


I could see it all replay back in slow motion watching the face of my placement manager as it happened (he knew I did not shake hands for religious reasons), and his face went from being all pink and flustered from being picked up, to a look of absolute mortification; his eyes bulging out and his mouth dropped.


Immediately my placement manager sternly reprimanded him. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what he said because,


The stress. was. real.


To be honest the person had already stopped by the time my manager could properly intervene.


I was not happy at all. Really not happy.

When the guy left, my manager asked me how I was. I told him straight I was more than annoyed (I did not want to use foul language), completely offended and this was not the first time I had told this specific person.


The next day, I had a meeting with my manager and he had told me that he had spoken to him privately and made it clear that I do not appreciate this type of behaviour. I actually told my manager that I had told this person before and I was concerned he would not listen. My manager said that he had thoroughly explained, and then went on to explain that his character was a bit like that. Which did make sense as my manager was completely embarrassed too by his own interaction.


Then a week or two later, the guy was in the office passing through. I was walking through the breakout area when he caught my glance. He then proceeded to come and apologise. He did try to lighten the tone with some jokes which I decided not to entertain. He was not someone who I could trust in respecting boundaries and I did not want to fall into any similar situations. I just accepted his apology and walked away.


I spoke to other non-Muslim female colleagues to gauge their opinion and understanding. They completely disliked this too. In a professional environment his actions were totally unacceptable. The only hugs I have seen between opposite genders is when the colleagues are actually friends outside of work hours.


Sad to say that is the end of the story, not very sweet. But the ugly needs to be shared too at times. The only saving grace I can think of was, this colleague, I had made a mistake when I worked with him the first time, which did lead to him wasting some of his time. He did graciously overlook it and I think he completely forgot about it.


To my fellow sisters, these things may happen, we need to make sure we take the necessary precautions to avoid these situations. Having said that, I have been working for several years and this was a one-off occurrence. As you can see it was more to do with his character rather than me, being a Muslim woman in a working environment. If it so happens that you are in a team with a character or characters like this, I would personally avoid or move teams/companies in general. It comes down to whether the working environment works for you. There are sisters who have decided not to work in teams or companies due to the incompatible social working environment although they enjoyed the work in itself. Perhaps you could do the same work in a different company or all you need to do is move teams with slightly different work streams but still something you enjoy and excel in.


May Allah keep us all firm to choose Him over the dunya, Aameen.


If you missed my early shenanigans, see part 1!


A Non-muslim's perspective


My careers team at university was so helpful, alhamdulillah. I would really recommend utilising them as much as possible at uni, because once you have gone that support will not be there; take all the leaflets, attend careers events, arrange mock interviews and let them be your go-to for any advice.


I arranged a mock interview with the careers team. I had mine with a lady, obviously no issues with hand-shaking there. It was during that time when I was still feeling anxious about declining handshakes although I had declined some by then. I had a great interview with the lady and it came to an end.


I just thought the opportunity was closing. I need to just ask.


I really needed her perspective of declining handshakes, non-muslim’s perspective. She had already made me feel so comfortable, so I asked.


I explained my situation of not shaking hands and stemming from religious reasons. I asked her from a non-muslim perspective what she thought of it and how would she want to receive this decline herself (from Muslim men). She was so sweet and said that it depends on the person as people might have different reactions. She ended by reassuring me to not worry about it, to stick to my principles. As we ended our conversation she then laughed and said,”I don’t really wanna shake men’s hands too.”


To be honest, she did not really give me constructive advice, she gave me something better, she made me feel normal. And that is what I needed to hear.


Alhamdulillah.


Sometimes knowing something is right in theory does not mean you will always feel comfortable. We all have our areas of strengths and weaknesses. As long as we don’t use our weaknesses as justification to not want to do better, Allah will recognise our striving.


In principle we should not look for validation elsewhere to commit to our values, but it can bring comfort to us.


May Allah allow her to see the beauty of Islam and guide her, Aameen.


Sending an email


Sending an email ahead is not something I have done often. I do not think there is a right or wrong approach, it is whatever you feel comfortable with. I personally concluded I do not want to draw attention to the handshaking situation so I would rather just turn-up and deal with it on the spot.


During my graduate induction, HR came to realise that I do not shake hands. The HR lady took me to a room and just asked if everything was okay as an incident happened the day before with me praying (story for another time maybe!). After that she brought up handshaking and asked to understand a bit better why I did it. She then recommended for me to email my mentor ahead of my first meeting with him to let him know I do not shake hands. I took her advice and let him know.


I turned up to the meeting and we went straight into business. During the meeting I felt an odd feeling that I recognised him. I then at one point realised that he was one of the engineers that interviewed me for the job! I was like, in my head, do I say something or not. I was feeling a bit sheepish that I did not realise right at the beginning.


When it came to the end of the meeting, I decided to ask him if he was the one of those who interviewed me. His face kind of lit up and said yes. He then went to say that he actually recognised my name when I was assigned to him as a mentee. In my head, I was thinking, how embarrassing, he remembered my name and everything and I did not remember his face.


He then went on to say that he knew about the handshake thing before I emailed (because I already said no at the interview, duh!). He got quite eager and kind of went through what happened at the assessment centre behind the scenes. He then went on to mention he did a little research about Muslims not shaking hands with the opposite gender and came across the term mahram and non-mahram. I was so surprised! I said yes, that is correct and that is where it comes from and explained what mahram and non-mahram meant etc. He then explained that he had read about the rulings of interaction between non-mahrams and that is why he chose to have the meeting in the breakout area and not a meeting room to avoid seclusion.


Can you believe it!


He did all this research so he would make sure he could cater for me!

Sadly I have spoken to sisters that have muslim managers and think we are being over the top with our arrangements, even fundamentals like a space and time for prayer. But here we have a non-muslim going out of his way to cater for my preferences.


May Allah guide him! Aameen.


If you haven’t read part 1 of shake or not to shake posts, have a read!

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