Shaking hands between sexes still forbidden in Yemen
In early 2007, a Muslim police woman in Britain sparked debates when she refused to shake hands with Britain’s senior police chiefs. The woman insisted that it was contrary to her religious teachings for her to touch a man.
The debate took different forms throughout the world, with some Muslims supporting her decision, while others thought she was attracting unwanted attention by refusing to shake hands with a man whom they claimed was harmless.
Some historians suggest that the handshake may have been introduced in the West as a gesture of peace in times of war, demonstrating that the hand holds no weapons.
In the Muslim World, to shake hands with someone of the same gender is a welcome sign and considered to be the practice of the Prophet Mohammed. However, handshakes between men and women are mostly interpreted as inappropriate. A short Islamic Hadith narrates that the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said, “It is better for one of you to be stabbed with a metal needle than to touch a woman who is not halal (lawful) for you.”
Some Muslims perceive hand shaking between opposite sexes as forbidden by the religion while others don’t see handshaking as linked to religion. The latter assert that globalization and the mingling of people from all over the world is making handshakes normal and acceptable.
In recent years, students in Yemeni universities and schools have been exposed to mingling of both genders in the same classes by way of the co-education system. Others have travelled to other countries where what is considered taboo in Yemen is thought of as a normal act.
“This mixed education system as well as TV shows and movies are writing a whole new guideline for youth on what should be right or wrong,” said Muna Yahya, a a Yemeni high school teacher. “Some things like handshakes are now seen as tradition and not religion.”
Youth views on hand shaking
In the opinion of some Yemeni youth, hand shaking is just a sign of respect.
“I don’t mind hand shaking with the opposite gender. It’s a sign of respect; it has nothing to do with religion; it’s a cultural and social thing,” said Ghufran Al-Khayat, a youth in the capital Sana’a.
However, others still believe that hand shaking between men and women are out of step with Islamic practice.
“I think hand shaking between opposite genders is forbidden in Islam. But, it is sometimes necessary in the business world. It depends on the situation one is in; for example, it is necessary to shake hands when receiving a certificate from someone,” said Ibrahim Al-Makhedh, a student at the Lebanon International University in Sana’a.
Others have suggested that shaking hands between sexes is permissible when outside Yemen, but inside the country, the cultural rules should be respected.
“It depends on the culture. Here in Yemen, I’m against it [hand shaking between sexes] because it’s not common, but I would shake hands in other parts of the world where it’s common and is seen as a sign of peace,” Maryam Al-Zomier said.
Other women believe that shaking hands between men and women is totally forbidden in or outside of Yemen.
“As a Muslim, I think it is forbidden to shake hands with the opposite gender and I agree with my Islamic teachings,” said Maha Al-Matari, a university student in Sana’a.