Islamic law expert: 'Let Muslims decide whether to shake hands or not'

Islamic law expert: 'Let Muslims decide whether to shake hands or not'

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Swedish Muslim woman who declined to shake the hand of an interviewer has won 40,000 kronor (£3,420) in compensation, because the interview was ended early.

The discrimination ombudsman represented Farah Alhajeh, 24, and a court ruled the company had discriminated against her by demanding a handshake.

The company had argued they treat both sexes equally and couldn’t allow a staff member to refuse a handshake because of gender.

Alhajeh does not have physical contact with the opposite sex for religious reasons, but she had placed her hand over her heart as a greeting when she attended the interview.

She had been applying for a job as an interpreter in her home town of Uppsala, Sweden.

Alhajeh told Australian outlet SBS news that the company said a "bacteria phobia" would have been an acceptable reason not to shake hands, but her religion was not.

"I just started crying and crying for hours, I was so shocked when that happened. I had been a practicing Muslim for a year-and-a-half so I hadn't been practicing my religion for that long, so this was a shock to me," she said.

Sweden's labour court said “the woman’s refusal to shake hands with people of the opposite sex is a religious manifestation that is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”


‘It should be their choice’

Joining Julia Hartley-Brewer this morning was Dr Amra Bone, an Islamic law expert and one of the UK’s only female sharia judges.

She said that the choice to shake hands - or not - should be respected.

Hartley-Brewer asked if some Muslims' decision not to shake hands with the opposite sex was "about sex".

"Not necessarily, it depends on your situation, if it's an emergency situation, you can," explained Dr Bone.

“She could have chosen on the spur of the moment to shake hands, and Islamically,I don’t think there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that, that’s for people to decide.

“She chose not to, that should be their decision.”

Hartley-Brewer argued that her refusal to shake hands could have got in the way of her job.

“The reality is, the customs of Western Europe require people to shake hands with people of the opposite sex,” she said.

“She was applying for a job as an interpreter, and would be meeting people all the time, as a normal, friendly, professional greeting in the workplace, people would expect to shake hands. The fact she wouldn’t do that, do you not think that makes her pretty unemployable?”

“I work in all sorts of places, and people don’t always shake hands,” responded Dr Bone.


Handshake etiquette

Formal greeting etiquette varies around the world.

Advice for business-people visiting Muslim-majority countries usually tells them to let their hosts offer their hand first, rather than the visitor offering theirs only for it to be refused.