• Working Muslimah

To shake or not to shake? - part 3

Final part of the Shake or Not to shakes series, check out part 1 and 2 if you haven’t!

My manager's concerns

During my year placement I was assigned a manager that checks up on me as I do rotations in different places within the business. My manager was probably in his 60s, he was quite old school and had never met someone like me. Despite his seniority in the organisation, he was quite a reserved person which is not what you would expect from someone so high up.

I was at the cohort induction networking event when I first met him (the same one as the side-eye reaction in part 1). I declined his handshake and he did not really say much, just went ‘oh okay’.

Another fellow female inductionee a few minutes later came to our little group and introduced herself and shook our hands, including myself. I had not really thought much of it at the time, alhamdulillah. But a few minutes later, that same manager actually asked me about it.

Again, he was not a brash type of character, and he said, “Erm, how come you shook her hands, is there something, a reason…?”. I could tell he was trying to find a way to ask, and I could see he genuinely wanted to know, it was not from a place of animosity or contempt. Rather , I could see that he felt he was missing something and just wanted to know.

Once I realised what he was getting at, I quickly *smiled* said I don’t shake hands with the opposite gender for religious reasons. He was like oh. But he was still quite puzzled, it was quite endearing. I went on further and explained, “there is not meant to be physical touch between genders in my religion, so that’s why I don’t shake hands, works both ways.” Bearing in mind this is a crowded hall, we almost could not hear ourselves over the chatter, and I was going into the details about female and male interaction from an Islamic perspective, lol.

It then kind of clicked and he just appreciated that he knew what was up and we kind of moved on from the conversation.

My first placement ironically was on the same floor as his team (my company is huge and has multiple offices, so not common). He ended up giving me some assignments instead of my actual placement manager, who was a bit disorganised in allocating me assignments. So he ended up being my direct manager for the first 4 months. Once I moved onto different placements we had catch-ups throughout the year on my progress.

During one of the last meetings we had he suddenly asked me in general how I was getting on, with handshaking and stuff. I was a bit surprised he brought it up, but pleasantly surprised. I said I was fine, that people have had different reactions at times but I have dealt with it (actually recounting some of my experiences found in this series, especially ‘no 4 times’). He had his own reflections about my experiences.

He then asked a few questions which I did not understand at first. Eventually, I realised he was indirectly asking if I had experienced any prejudice as a result of my handshake rejections. I said thankfully I don’t think I have. He went on to say he was happy to hear this and explained that throughout his career hand-shaking has been the fabric of the working-culture and it shows a sense of camaraderie (well pre-covid!). So he was concerned if I was experiencing any back-lash on opportunities in my work and placements. SubhanaAllah, I was quite taken aback by his concern and his openness. Alhamdulillah, I had not.

As my year placement was coming to an end, he offered his support and assistance in the future if I ever needed it and if I came back to the company.

Such a gem. He retired around 3 years ago. Unfortunately I do not think it was entirely his choice. I hope he is doing well, May Allah guide him, Aameen.

Thanks Covid-19

So this is probably the most relevant article of all and my most recent experience. I don’t think many of us will need to be handshaking for some time whilst Covid-19 is around. May Allah protect us, Aameen.

Our team has a contractor that comes to do odd jobs for us from a hands-on/onsite perspective. I probably have met him 5 times within a year, and did not work directly with him. His white hair makes him look older than he probably is, maybe in his mid-/late 40s. Anyway, he knows I do not shake hands, so he does this half namaste thing, holds both hands and half a bow, when he greets me or says bye, lol. I really do not know what to do about it. (Any advice?! Suggest below!)

Literally a week or two before lock-down he was at our offices for a meeting with other colleagues. He was passing through the desks and greeted me, and as he was leaving he said “Well now you have got an excuse not to hand-shake, people won’t be wanting to shake your hand anymore ha”.

Yes, quite right he was.

The Muslim guy

So there has been a few times a muslim brother has actually offered a handshake. Yes, the thought is awkward.

Obviously as soon as I decline they realise why, I can see it in their eyes. There was no negative response, just like




all unsaid.

It has happened to me a couple of times, ranging from a senior colleague, when on company training with a trainer, and general colleagues from different teams. I will share the one with the new colleague as the interaction lasted longer, so I can actually tell a story about it!

I went to another colleague’s desk who was on my project to consult on something. He was setting next to the new muslim colleaugue and they were chatting away as they had worked together previously in another team. I kind of asked if I could interject their chat to ask a quick question. I introduced myself to the new colleague and he offered to shake hands, I politely declined. My other colleague, who isn’t Muslim and knew I do not shake hands, watched it happen and made a joke, "Oh yeah, she doesn’t shake hands, you should know you’re Muslim, ha”.

Ya Rabb, please don’t (in my head)

It was literally just a millisecond of awkwardness and then it was fine. The brother was quite a good sport about the joke, shrugged it off and moved on.

So yes, we will get other Muslims offering, as we know we are all on different points in our life in becoming closer to Allah in ways that can and cannot be seen.. There is no point for judgement or giving a reminder, our actions are enough. What matters is that they are your fellow colleagues. From a professional perspective, you need their support and they need yours, and that’s what matters.

May Allah keep us firm and be grateful for guidance, Aameen.

The of end of handshakes

I have come to the end of the series of my eventful handshakes. My intention was to share my experiences so others who resonate with my experience can be confident enough to take this step.

But another aim of sharing my experiences was to show that many of those who assisted me along the way were from our fellow non-muslims brothers and sisters. I am sure there are others who may have had many negative experiences. [and this series does not intend to demean their suffering]. For myself however, Alhamdulillah, I have not had many negative experiences. However it is to show that it is possible to stick to our principles in our working life and career. And it’s made possible by those who Allah has selected who go out of their way to cater for your needs.

But, most importantly, ask Allah to help you. Because the good we do is not from us, but from Him. Our duty is to do what we can within our capability, whilst striving to stick to our values.

For more on handshakes and what it means to a Muslim, please see this beautiful post by a good friend on the Civil Service fast stream.

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