Observing the Sunnah in the Professional World

Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaah,

Rather than writing a long article, I had wanted to pose a question to our readers. One of the major obstacles that Muslims living the West face, particularly those of us who must work amongst non-Muslims, is having to be “professional,” according to the Western concept of the word, without compromising our practice of the Sunnah. Allow me to be a bit less vague. If a brother would like to follow the sunnah with regards to his beard, he would not touch it, or at least leave it at fist-length. Without delving into the particular fiqhi rulings of whether or not the beard is fard, and if so, how long it must be, etc etc, we can safely say that it is considered highly recommended across the board to leave the beard either completely or at fist-length. Sisters, on the other hand, are required to cover, and, to my knowledge, the ulama agree that the minimum requirement for hijab includes a long outer-garment to be worn over her normal clothing (termed as jilbab) in addition to covering the hair. Again, I don’t wish to get into the fiqhi details of exactly what constitutes jilbab, or whether or not niqab is fard; rather, I am aiming at the obstacles faced when trying to meet requirements of hijab in the workplace.

Furthermore, there are gender interaction issues. Handshaking between non-mahram men and women does not constitute appropriate Islamic behavior. Indeed, even free-mixing of genders, as is so commonplace in the professional world, is not deemed as appropriate. However, for a Muslim who is working, and attempting to earn his rizq, some of these situations seem simply unavoidable.

So my question to the readers is as follows: What obstacles are faced in attempting to observe the sunnah, in the sense I mentioned above, in the professional world, while still maintaining proper “professionalism”? I will start off the discussion by answering my own question, and inshaAllah, brothers and sisters can share their responses.

I currently work in an engineering product center for an oilfield services company. Alhamdulillah, so far I have not faced any problems with keeping a fist-length beard; of course, I do my best to make sure it is well-groomed each day. However, to be honest, I do feel as though observing this sunnah does create obstacles in terms of professional development. Alhamdulillah, I have no intention whatsoever of leaving this sunnah, and observance of the sunnah gets a much higher priority for me than “climbing the corporate ladder.” Although no one has told me anything yet, I am fairly certain that some of the upper-management may raise a mental eyebrow, so to speak. Mixed gender interactions are also minimized, alhamdulillah, because for some reason, our female colleagues do not seem to be very attracted to the oil and gas industry :) . However, the occasional situation does, and almost certainly will again, present itself where a female extends her hand for a shake. How to best deal with this situation and maintain “professionalism” seems quite tricky to me.

I can write more, but inshaAllah, let’s hear from some of our readers. I am quite certain some issues, such as the beard, would pose a greater problem in a different profession, such as the medical profession. Likewise with hijab/jilbab for our sisters. And I know mixed gender interactions can also be a greater problem depending on the field.

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92 responses to “Observing the Sunnah in the Professional World”

  1. H says:

    Being in technology, I often have to squeeze under the desks, and plug/unplug cables. This can be a lil’ challenging with a jilbab

  2. Abu Muhammad says:

    Beard:

    No problem. Mine’s a fistful (give or take a few mm).

    I’ve been working in industry for years. You get the occasional joke but it’s usually light hearted. The strange thing is that since 9/11 it’s become easier. Maybe it’s the massive numbing that’s occured to it, the media (imho) is always a double edged sword (which can work in our favour).

    In my experience as long as you are professional and excellent at what you do, nobody seems to mind. Also be nice to everyone and you cannot go wrong. Help people, go out of your way to do it.

    To be fair I have to say that the British can be very professional and very accommodating. A lot of companies provide prayer rooms (small ones, but the gesture is greatly appreciated and welcomed).

    The more they get used to Muslims the better. People will realise we are only human beings, believe it or not!

    Hand shaking:

    You have to learn the tricks of the trade!

    1. Kind of hang around at the back of the meeting before people shake hands and sit down quickly.

    2. The old ‘hello…whoops me shoe lace is untied’.

    3. My hands are full of folders and stuff…

    4. Keep a plaster on you (that’s a band aid for all you yanks).

    5. Let everyone see you just before the meeting and then go ‘to the bathroom’ just before the meeting starts and come in a few minutes late.

    6. Learn some elite NLP skills and say something which causes cognitive dissonance! I have to really work on this one, it might sort all our hand shaking problems out. LOL

    7. Be straight up “Sorry I’m not allowed to shake hands with you” Then explain everything in the next twenty minutes. This is the hardest. But if you have the gift of the gab then go for it.

    8. Superwoman. Sorry you can’t avoid this one. She’s so quick, she shoves her hand in yours before you know what’s happened your neural pathway is activated and kicks in and you give salaam! Then you realise what you just done.

    9. Weak boy. Shake hands and make taubah later. No comment required.

  3. M says:

    I am commenting on the sisters side of it. First of all the best place for the women is inside the home. I know that certain things happen and sometimes we have to work outside the home. Also now a days you can practically get your degree online with out ever having to step foot on campus! InshaAllah I plan on going into the teaching field so then I can find an Islamic school to work at. We all know how desperate they are to have Muslim teachers! InshaAllah working in that enviornment you won’t have to worry about the abaya, hijab, niqab issue. Then when you have children of your own you have the same hours, days off and the summer off! InshaAllah you will also get the reward for teaching! Can’t beat that!

  4. abu ameerah says:

    “To be fair I have to say that the British can be very professional and very accommodating. A lot of companies provide prayer rooms…”

    Subhanallah…that is the exact opposite of what most work environments in the US are like. It is the rare “boss” or job that allows you to even look like a Muslim (I’m NOT referring to wearing kufis and coming to work in a thobe!) — let alone actually take the occasional salah break.

    As far as Jumuah goes…you can just about forget that in many professional work environments, as well. I recently spoke to a brother who is pursing legal action in this regard because he was repeatedly docked hours of pay & admonished for taking a 10min. or 15min. salah break … even though he wouldn’t take a lunch break and was very punctual in completing any and all of his work related tasks.

    His coworkers, on the other hand, would be allowed to take an hour or more for lunch … take repeated cigarette breaks … and got away with arriving to work late.

  5. Umm Layth says:

    I don’t why brothers struggle so much with the hand shaking thing. Being blunt is easier and better. I’ve never had a hard time with this, and believe me I’ve had my share of experiences. I’ve dealt with govt and still said nope. Just don’t think about it so much and it should not be so hard.

  6. AbdulRahman says:

    I remember a Pakistani teacher I once had, she was Muslim and she once extended her hand and I embarrassingly shook it.
    Then as the days went on I started attending more religious lecture and becoming a bit more attentive to these issues, and the issue even came up in a lecture.
    The next time my English teacher extended her hand I raised my hand in a small wave and said: “Sorry, I don’t shake hands!”
    I felt like a hero. Then again, this is all in a Muslim country.

    The issue I always think about is lowering the gaze. Non-hijabis (All non-Muslims) don’t cover their awra (the part we’re not allowed to see which includes the hair the neck the ears, let alone other parts) so it’s hard to communicate with them in a working environment and anywhere else.

    What’s scary to me is that every gaze counts.

    “Whosoever does an atom’s weight of a bad deed shall see it”

    What are your comments on this matter?

  7. Amad says:

    salam… Br. Abu Ameerah, my experience has been different. I have never had an issue leaving for Jumuah prayer, even when it takes me almost 1.5 hours and I have to miss a meeting. I have made sure every boss I have had understood this priority and that there was no “excuse” for me not to attend.

    Most other people I know also haven’t had a big issue. Perhaps this may be a bigger issue in blue-collar work because of the sometimes inflexibility in the working conditions. As you pointed out, the brother who has this problem should seek an external solution if he has exhausted all internal attempts.

    If they don’t care, then call CAIR.

  8. hema says:

    i remember i was so nervous about wearing the jilbab to work that i decided to wear it with a blazor so it would look more professional. but i’m not sure if that is permissible??
    i’ve found on the whole noone really cares what you wear but you. as long as you are good at your job and get along with people, you will be treated just like everyone else.

    handhsaking hasn’t really been a problem with me because i don’t attend a lot of meetings, but i have found it difficult to consistantly decline invitations to work parties etc.

    i think it’s harder for men (especially because they tend to look more intimidating!) and i would agree that the British are very accomodating and tolerant on the whole.

  9. ... says:

    I wear jalbab and i work in corporate America. In the beginning, it was very difficult since people here have hardly seen any hijab/jalbabi in financial industry. however as the time went on, people on my floor have gotten used to seeing me (but if i go on different floor then everyone turns around and looks at me and so many ppl even ask , ‘yes may i help u’ (they think ive lost my way)
    Another big problem is declining invitations for after work parties. My team has dinner almost every other day and obviously they drink afterwards so i never go (im the only one in my team who misses these dinners which makes me more isolated from team)..however i made it clear to them that i dont drink so i dont want to be at a place where everyone is drinking etc etc

    Another problem is there is no specific place for me to pray so i pray by emergency stairs and hope that no one walks by =) (it breaks ur concentration)

  10. ... says:

    i want to point out one thing that i seee soooo many desis/muslim names working here at Morgan Stanley however most of them are not religious and are not practicing muslims (sometimes i wonder , what if they were all practicing Muslims then we wouldnt have issues with prayer space =(

  11. ... says:

    hema i wear jalbab with blazor as welll; i dont see why wouldnt it be allowed (obviously blazor cant be fitted)

  12. Amad says:

    I must also add that in our plant, like most other petrochemical or refining plants, facial hair is forbidden, let alone fist-length beards. This is due to safety issues that come into play if you have to wear a respirator, which precludes facial hear that prevents a good fit.

    In these circumstances, the people of knowledge that I have dealt with have allowed it due to the safety issue. Furthermore, when I did try to fight it with CAiR (br.royer was my contact, may Allah protect him), the safety factor upended all religious issues. And I think that is understandable.

    As for shaking hands, wallahalam, if you want to work in a “normal” corporate or white-collar environment, it is nearly impossible to avoid. Furthermore, there is a strong cultural aspect to this, that if you avoid it, many people find it offensive and very difficult to comprehend. Usually it creates even more stereotypes about islam. I am not justifying it, just calling it like it is. Finally, I am looking forward to having a beard again, inshallah in a muslim country. I know this is not an option for most, so I say make the best of it with fearing Allah to the best of your abilities, and asking for His forgivness. It isn’t the same challenge in the East as it is in the West and Allah knows best our situation.

    Wallahualam

  13. hema says:

    “i dont see why wouldn’t it be allowed”
    because of the whole issue of jilbab being the outer garment, but i’m not sure about it.

    praying near the emergency stairs seems dangerous, don’t you have a room to use?

    the one time that i did shake hands at an interview, he commnted that he was surprised that i did because the Muslim candidate before me didn’t. i’v avoided shaking hands after this, because i feel rather than creating stereotypes about Islam, it makes the people that do it look even more extreme if the majority don’t.

  14. Amad says:

    Sister “…” I really admire you for doing what you are doing at Morgan Stanley… I have been hanging out a lot lately with the “finance” crowd in my MBA and I totally see the struggle that you are undergoing. That is pretty awesome!

    I am sure that is affecting your career… I don’t see Corporate America being at the point of diversity to accept you for what you are. These “socials” are where they really make all the “decisions” implicitly. Many times its about feeling comfortable with people, rather being happy with their ACTUAL work. That’s the reality unfortunately.

  15. Abu Arooj says:

    From discussing this topic with non-muslims I gauged the following:

    a) if someone refuses to shake hands it’s very offensive

    b) if eye contact is not made during a discussion suggests one is ignoring a person and does not feel their input is relevant.

    c) a free flowing beard, not trimmed, suggests lazyness and “can’t be bothered” attitude.

    d) rushing out in the middle of a meeting for prayer or any reason is unprofessional.

    e) your hired to do a job, if anything gets in the way then its not taken well.

  16. Amad says:

    Abu arooj, I would agree with the observations.

    The only prayers usually with limited time constraints are jumah and maghrib… so I try to ensure that the mgrs or someone is aware of it in advance.

    Same issue at school with classes overlapping jumuah. I make sure to send an email or other comminque to the Professor of concern, so that he knows why I am dragging in late to class.

  17. I am commenting on the sisters side of it. First of all the best place for the women is inside the home. I know that certain things happen and sometimes we have to work outside the home. Also now a days you can practically get your degree online with out ever having to step foot on campus!

    Sr. M, I agree with your general sentiments about the best place for a sister being inside her home, however, the Muslim community needs sisters who work outside the home. The most obvious example I can think of is in the medical field. I’m sure all of us can think of tons of sisters who would never want to be treated by a male doctor/nurse unless it is an absolute necessity. Therefore, we Muslims, if we expect our sisters to be treated by female doctors, need to understand how our sisters can be involved in the medical profession while still not compromising their deen.

    I believe there is a sister in Houston who runs a clinic where she only sees females, mashaAllah. If only something like that could be implemented on a hospital level here.

  18. As for shaking hands, wallahalam, if you want to work in a “normal” corporate or white-collar environment, it is nearly impossible to avoid. Furthermore, there is a strong cultural aspect to this, that if you avoid it, many people find it offensive and very difficult to comprehend. Usually it creates even more stereotypes about islam. I am not justifying it, just calling it like it is.

    I wonder if all Muslims working in the corporate world came together and unanimously agreed that they would not shake hands with the opposite gender, period, what would happen? If Muslims make up, say, 5 % of the corporate (white-collar?) workforce (I think that number seems about right, even though I know the population percentage is lower), the corporate world could not possibly view something that 5% of its workers collectively practice as “offensive.”

    At my company we had to take “Diversity, Professionalism, and Harassment Prevention in the Workplace” classes (all you corporate bros and sis should be laughing if you had to undergo similar torture :) ), but these classes seemed to open a door for Muslims in this respect. I remember there was a Japanese guy in my class, and the instructor called him to the front of the room and started walking towards him, and asked him when he is standing too close to him. As is customary in Japanese culture, the Japanese guy said that the instructor was too close when he was about 2 arm’s lengths away (which is a much larger personal space than most Americans have, which tends to be more around one arm’s length or less). Likewise in this class they talked about how in some cultures the men kiss to greet, while in others (I think Japanese again) they bow.

    I didn’t ask, because I was chicken, but I should have. I should have asked, “What about in Muslim cultures, where men and women are not allowed to shake hands?” These kinds of open discussions in these company-wide meetings and classes can really open doors for the Muslim community in terms of being able to practice their deen more openly without being looked upon negatively for doing so. And Allah knows best.

  19. ibnabeeomar says:

    sh. isam rajab mentioned – One of the brothers used to tell ladies when they stretch their hands: “I can’t shake hands with you unless you’re very ugly or very old and I don’t believe you fit in any of these categories”.

    Now that is one smooth brother.

    Muhammad Faqih (in AlMaghrib Rules of Engagement) also had a good one, “I love my wife so much I promised her I wouldn’t shake the hand of any other woman”

  20. AnonyMouse says:

    Hmmmmmmm… I really don’t think that hands-shaking thing is *that* big of a deal. My mum and my dad go through it all the time, and when you explain to them in a nice tone of voice that you don’t shake hands or otherwise touch someone of the opposite gender for religious reasons, they’re rarely offended.
    Same goes for lowering the gaze… my dad never looks at non-Mahram women eye-to-eye, and when he’s asked about it (which is rarely ever, actually) he does the same as above – explains it kindly. They usually take it pretty well, or at least won’t say anything nasty.

    The couple times it’s happened to me, I do the same thing… it’s really way easier to be up front and open about it. You don’t have to be rude, curt, or abrupt; it’s all about being polite!

  21. Faraz says:

    I work in about as corporate an environment as it gets, and I spend about 90% of my time on business travel. Alhamdulillah, I’ve never had a problem with Jumah or any other salaah, though not every client has provided me with a regular prayer room. In those cases, I just find empty meeting rooms, or as one sister mentioned, the emergency staircase works as well.

    As part of the nature of my profession, going out for drinks with colleagues and clients after work is quite an important tradition, and I used to think that perhaps my refusal to do so would inhibit my advancement at work, or hinder my opportunities. Then one brother told me the following:
    “No, you aren’t losing opportunities. Opportunities are from Allah; there is no progress in disobedience. Allah will open the opportunities for you so long as you keep to your path. Your rizq is already written.”

    SubhanAllah, such a simple message I had heard so many times, but I still ultimately forget. So no matter what it takes to fulfil Allah’s commands, it will never impede one’s progress in the professional world. It’s not your manager that decides your rizq, it’s Allah, and ultimately our efforts should be on pleasing Allah before anyone else.

    Just to reiterate what others have been saying, as long as you do your job well, I find people don’t really care about the beard on your face or the hijab on your head. (Of course, if keeping a beard or wearing hijab causes safety issues, that’s another matter altogether.)

  22. Amad says:

    telecommute! :)

    Can’t beat that! Especially when virtual handshakes, heck virtual hugs don’t count!

  23. ...Niamah says:

    ”””””’I should have asked, “What about in Muslim cultures, where men and women are not allowed to shake hands?” ””

    Hey when i took “Diversity, Professionalism, and Harassment Prevention in the Workplace” class @ Morgan Stanley, i did bring up the issue and everybody started looking @ me as if i am a moron =) but i explained to them how its due to my religion and its very important to me and i wouldnt feel comfortable compromising on it etccc
    Then person in class suggested that i should be extra nice , sweet which will make up not shaking hand-lol (i dont know if that made sense) but khair i think its easier for sisters to avoid shaking hand (since we stand out so much and i hope that our jalbab reminds them about nuns =) so they wont get offended..

  24. ...Niamah says:

    i changed my name from … =)

    ”praying near the emergency stairs seems dangerous, don’t you have a room to use? ”

    The meeting rooms have glass doors so they are completely transparent ( i have about 90 people working on my floor so i wouldnt feel comfortable if all of them stare @ me while im praying )

  25. ...Niamah says:

    ”’These “socials” are where they really make all the “decisions” implicitly”

    That is absolutely true and i have witnessed it so many times (despite of meeting all the deadlines and being proactive in work, my co worker received better promotions then i did however im not complaining @ all, Rizaq is with Allah swt only)
    The only disheartning part of the whole thing is that when u explain them that its due to religion, they quickly reply back ‘oh this person is muzlim but he comes and drinks as well’……….that makes me seem *extremist*

  26. Inhibited_laughter says:

    “sh. isam rajab mentioned – One of the brothers used to tell ladies when they stretch their hands: “I can’t shake hands with you unless you’re very ugly or very old and I don’t believe you fit in any of these categories”.”

    I’m sorry to say, but as a sister, I definitely wouldn’t like it if ANY guy said that to me. It almost seems a little flirty…….because the person saying it is indirectly telling the woman that she is pretty or good looking.

    Definitely not a good line to use on non-mahram women!!!

    And seriously, so what if they take offense to not shaking hands with them?? As long as you explain it to them properly, there shouldn’t be a problem. This is America, and Americans need to be tolerant towards others cultures and just accept the differences.

    As long as you are pleasing Allah, you are bound to displease others…….but who’s more important! :)

  27. Yus from the Nati says:

    What about “I’m shaking your hand in my heart”

    I heard Shaikh Mukhtar Maghroui telling a story where he had to say to a young teen something about hugging her in his heart. haha it was nice.

  28. Umm Layth says:

    These are such dumb responses and forgive me for my bluntness! My husband was sharing with me some examples of a brother he knows who would just look at the woman all weird and turn around while her hand is sticking out! How rude is that? He offered no explanation as to why he didn’t shake his hand, and completely turned his back on her. I don’t think THIS is the proper adab of a Muslim, either. It’s really not that hard.

    From the beginning of a relationship that you make, whether it be with a boss or coworkers etc… let them know your rules. Chances are they will take it better than you think. But if you wait and come to them LATER on with your rules, they will think you are nuts and possibly look at you as some type of hypocrite. People who uphold their religion and don’t give in for people are respected much more than those who leave their principles for people.

    Also, some of these responses are fitnah brothers. As someone said, FLIRTY. Come on. We can either do it right or be extreme both ways. You don’t need to be flirty about it, nor do you have to be rude. Just be simple and humble when you tell them. Chances are you won’t even have to explain it to many others because this one person will explain it for you! I’ve been through it and seen it.

  29. Umm Layth says:

    Also, even if some people take offense, oh well. If you don’t want to be touched by a person, it’s your body, your life. Let them go off and touch other people if they ‘need’ to shake hands so badly. They aren’t losing out on anything.

    Once these side issues are out of the way, things become so much easier.

    Also, brother Amad, are you aware of the opinion of what the lihyah is in the shafi’i school? It’s quite interesting!

  30. Yus from the Nati says:

    Umm Layth you right.

    But it’s easier said than done. Fear/temptation? come over when you got a job on the line and feeding some kids…or getting into a particular school and having your career dependent on it. These things come in the back of your head when you’re in these situations. I don’t think it’s the issue of saying how you feel…I think it’s do you have the balls to do it.

    I’m sure this is a sign of a weakness of Imaan in the sense of having trust in Allah he will provide for you as long as we are obedient.

    From what I have experienced is what Umm Layth was saying. It’s DEF easier if you say it off top rather than waiting…and then gets real awkward later on. Word travels fast. But still easier said than done for many people.

    and on a idealist note…if everyone was doing this…it wouldn’t be a problem. Same for the beards/clothes deal. If orthodox Jews (among other religious minorities) can do it…I’m pretty sure we can get together and do it.

    On a side note. I would like to know how many people on here has atleast fist-length beard pants above ankles (of course if you believe these opinions) and have professional jobs or are in professional schools? The only person I’ve seen reppin the sunna hard and STILL made it through medschool was Abdul-Sattar masha’Allah. Seacrest OUT!

  31. Umm Layth says:

    Yus, you are right, it is easier said than done, but maybe it’s just that for me these things aren’t issues. It’s very hard for me to understand why they are. I know men have it hard, please don’t think I just have a big head or something and am insensitive. I know this and very well. I also know women have it hard when they go out of their homes wearing a headscarf, abaya, niqab etc. Sisters have to cover up at work and some sisters have no one else to depend on. I can understand sisters taking off the khimaar because they can find no job, because the community isn’t helping them, because they have kids who need to be fed. I can understand this. But this is a bigger issue and many sisters deal with it. I look at the issue of shaking hands vs outergarments and I can’t comprehend why brothers make it so difficult on themselves. Sometimes brothers just assume it will be hard but that’s just it, assumptions.

    It could be that I am very rebellious in nature. When I first accepted Islam I wanted to implement right away. When people said anything to me about things that ‘offended’ them, I just told them to realize that it was my life and not their own. When my mom tried to force me to shake the man’s hands at the govt office as we fixed our immigration status, I stood my ground. Who was my mother to force me to touch a strange man, I always thought. Who were these men to feel they had a right to grab my hand and who gave them the right to feel offended by my decision of not wanting to be touched? My mother and father were always shocked at how respectful the men ended up being. It was only close family friends who knew me before Islam, before these ‘rules’, who complained.

    I went to CVS a few months ago. I went to get some pictures done for some paperwork and earlier that day I had spoken to the manager. I asked him if there was a woman available to take the pictures, sort through them etc.. and when he saw me come in he informed the front lady that she had to handle me. He was so kind and welcomed me to his store. He stuck his hand out so far that some of you brothers, had that been a woman, wouldn’t have thought twice about shaking her hand. In fact, it was so close that you would not have had enough space to move your hand to the side of your body if it was in front of you. It would simply have touched their hand. So yeah, pretty close! And for me it still wasn’t an issue and for many others it isn’t. He was shocked, but respected my opinion and continued to smile and welcomed me to his store, again.

    Maybe I brainwashed myself for a long time and that’s why it’s easier. Or maybe it’s because I deal with worse things. I get laughed at, yelled at, get people to turn their back’s on me, spoken about and made to feel like a ‘monster’ in people’s presence for wearing niqab. Maybe this has become so petty in comparison to not being able to order from a restaurant because people think I’m some terrorist who is going to blow them up. This is the test for brothers because many times you don’t have something to show that you are Muslim. For women, because of the unintentional da’wah, it is easier. It’s expected. That’s my opinion. May Allah make it easy for all of you and us. Ameen

  32. Niamah says:

    ”””””are you aware of the opinion of what the lihyah is in the shafi’i school? It’s quite interesting!”””

    I would like to know more about this, if u dont mind sharing =)

  33. Amad says:

    Umm Layth:

    Also, brother Amad, are you aware of the opinion of what the lihyah is in the shafi’i school? It’s quite interesting!

    Tell us sister.

  34. Abdullah says:

    I share an office so I pray in the conference room if it’s empty. Otherwise, I pray in my office and my coworker doesn’t mind. I go to Jum’a with no problem. I mean these are all legal rights so it’s no big deal for me so I’m not shy about them. I wear slacks and a shirt. I don’t wear any cultural dress because there is no reward in looking like an Arab. The reward is in being modest. I don’t wear short pants because pants are not a sign of arrogance in Western culture. The Prophet forbade arrogance not long clothing. My beard is short and nicely trimmed. Just because Westerners are known for having nice beards does not mean that we should have scraggly ones to look different. Grow some facial hair so you don’t look like a Zoroastrian or effeminate and the case is closed. If a woman sticks out her hand, I shake it. If not, I don’t. It’s not a big deal to me to require an explanation or anything since there is a difference on the issue and since in our culture refusing a handshake is an insult and also does not entail any kind of sexual attraction. Customs due have a place in usul-al-fiqh whether we like it or not.

    I look people in the face when I talk to them whether they are a man or woman. I say hi to my coworkers and ask them how they are and how their weekends were whether they are a man or woman. The culture is different so I don’t employ “blocking the means” in America to an extreme. I know my limits and I know what it takes to present myself as a professional yet normal person. I am in America to work and do da’wa so I try to be social so people can open up to me and ask me questions. I am not the quiet, unapproachable Muslim guy that everyone is scared of. When there are team events, I ask about alcohol. Sometimes they accommodate, sometimes they can’t. I still attend. You might be reading this and think I am a compromiser but I am willing to sacrifice some luxuries for the sake of maintaining relations. Allah says in the Qur’an says that he sent “a messenger from themselves.”

    Some people assume that we have to show that we are as different as possible from the West and that is the struggle. I believe that the struggle is being as similar as possible and teaching them that the main difference is tawhid and only some aspects of their lifestyle. This was the example of our prophet and his relationship with Quraysh. They dressed the same, looked the same, and some were even family. Our prophet put up with them so that he could teach them tawhid. So the struggle is in integration not isolation. If that was the case, than the prophet would have left Quraysh but instead he put up with their idol worship and immoral behavior until the message was delivered. You don’t have to agree with me but I just want to give my opinion. You can come back to me with the sheikh said this and that but honestly most of them are not part of the real world. Masjid to the house is a lot different. They set a standard so high that no one can reach instead of giving practical advice. The real world is not a fiqh book. People’s feelings are involved and I pray that Allah forgives me of any shortcomings.

    In conclusion, my advice is to try your best and don’t create imaginary obstacles for fulfilling your own personal desire to disassociate yourself from non-Muslims.

    May Allah make it easy for us all. Ameen.

  35. Musa Maguire says:

    Abdullah, I wouldn’t take the exact same approach as you, but you do raise what seems to me the crucial issue. We need responsible scholars who can really map the terrain for us so we know what issues are a must (or a no-no!) and what issues have flexibility.

    I keep my beard big and bushy, but I know scholars who I respect and would feel shy to disagree with who trim their beards to a short length. Sometimes, I think that is almost admirable, given the fitna that’s developed around policing the beards, and measuring taqwa with our fists.

    I avoid the hand shaking, which always has the potential to be a problem. However, it usually is not a big deal once you explain the reasons. It is harder for men because it seems to confirm the stereotypes of muslim misogyny, and it is culturally a bit rude. However, you can still establish good relationships with people after the initial awkward moment.

    There is also the absolutely essential issue of context. We need advice about these matters from sheikhs who know the cultural environment, live within it themselves, and are deeply in touch with their own fallibility. We really don’t need global fatwas. Again, I don’t shake hands with women, but one who does so in a corporate conference room is not exactly the same as someone walking around Riyadh trying to slap five with niqaabis.

  36. aarij says:

    “8. Superwoman. Sorry you can’t avoid this one. She’s so quick, she shoves her hand in yours before you know what’s happened your neural pathway is activated and kicks in and you give salaam! Then you realise what you just done.”

    Man i hate these!!! Subhan Allah, I can avoid almost every woman handshake except this one…plus that high five in the middle of the office…i hate them so much.

    Some things I do to avoid handshakes:

    1. Anticipate. On my last day, I would often just sneak out for a washroom break when I’m anticipating a handshake coming. It was so funny…I see a lady approaching me from a distance and I would lock my computer and run to the restroom!!

    2. Plan. Let people know ahead of time that Muslim men don’t shake hands with non-mahram women. I’ve done that at interviews and alhamdulillah, its been awesome.

    3. Dua. A few months ago i was being introduced around the office (coz I was new)…so i didn’t know what to say and I was very nervous…so I made dua that oh Allah…help please!! and subhan Allah, ALL the females in the office were on the phone or busy at the exact moment me and my boss went up to introduce me!! I was like Allahu akbar! That was a good emanrush.

  37. Amad says:

    someone walking around Riyadh trying to slap five with niqaabis.

    LOL… what is interesting that it would be exactly the opposite, i.e. extremely offensive to try to shake hands with women in many Muslim countries (alhamdulilah for that). To avoid it is in fact the “norm”. So, visitors from the West who are not Muslims would have to pick up “that Islamic culture”. As far as the drinking company, I have been able to avoid it for the most part… but now with my study groups in school, beer-drinking is part of the “normal” decompression routine for the students. So, what to do? Stop the group study that is part of the expectations or expect all the group members to stop drinking, which if I tried would sound like I am forcing my issue on them. It is really not as simple as it sounds, esp. when you start going up the food chain. One might say, heck with the food chain, but there is a lot of good that Muslims can do for the community at large when they obtain upper echelon positions in the society. In Muslim countries, this too would be a non-issue.

    Again, I am not justifying it… and all the power to those who are able to avoid it in all forms… but we must recognize that most of the people on this forum are well above the “average” Muslim in terms of practice. So, imagine selling this to the “average” ones when the practicing ones struggle so much with it.

  38. Nasir says:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    I heard about this one brother in MSA who gave a lecture about Islam at the university. At the end some girl went to shake his hand and when he refused the girl fainted.

  39. Nasir says:

    “I see a lady approaching me from a distance and I would lock my computer and run to the restroom!!”

    Very nice tactic LOL

  40. Faiez says:

    I think coughing in your hand before the person is able to shake your hand is the best trick. They may not care about religion, but they sure don’t want phlegm on their hands :)

    Asalaamu alaikum

  41. Dawud Israel says:

    Gather round! I have a story to tell you. What happens when you combine a practicing Muslim employee with a Government organization?

    You’ll be suprised… :)

    http://muslimology.wordpress.com/2007/09/06/islam-in-the-workplace/

  42. Musa Maguire says:

    Actually, Amad, I have to disagree with you about the Muslim country thing. Some of the dirtiest looks I’ve received for not shaking hands have been from Muslim women wearing hijab. I’ve also seen men with beards persecuted by their colleagues in ways that would be unacceptable here.

    Obviously, it differs from place to place, but the self-hate issues among elites in Egypt and elsewhere can be quite dramatic.

  43. aarij says:

    “Again, I don’t shake hands with women, but one who does so in a corporate conference room is not exactly the same as someone walking around Riyadh trying to slap five with niqaabis.”

    Very pertinent point, may Allah reward you.

    One thing I remembered about this whole hand-shaking business that I have seen brothers do/think about doing: don’t indulge in a sin to avoid a sin. E.g. don’t say “Sorry I have pinkeye and its contagious, so I cant shake your hand” when you don’t have pinkeye!!

    But alhamdulillah, at the end of the day, Allah forgives all sins and like Sh. Yasir said in another post, shaking hands with the opposite gender in and of itself is not a major sin, so in sha Allah it’ll get wiped away from prayer to prayer in sha Allah ta’ala. I’m not belittling the sin or anything, but this is the truth and in sha Allah, we should keep this in mind.

    WAllahu alim.

  44. Umm Layth says:

    A sin is a sin, no matter how ‘small’. It’s worse to fall into sin while knowing it is a sin, as well. Such a way of thinking will cause a person to lose his connection with Allah. Atleast feel awful for it, but no need to make it a unimportant.

    I remember listening to a lecture and the speaker said, ‘Belittling a sin is a sin in itself’. And honestly a believer who wants to better his life and make Allah his goal always aims (it is hard but we try, right?) to abstain from not just the sins but the makruhat. Not to mention, how can one make sincere tawba if they constantly think ‘well, my sin isn’t that big, so no biggie’. It would make that tawba invalid, don’t you think?

  45. MHSS says:

    BismillahirRahmanirRaheem,

    Assalaamu alaikum my dear brothers and sisters,

    The “handshake” issue seems to plague many of us, especially those of us in the workplace evironment daily. The best advice I was ever given was to simply ask guidance from a scholar who knows you and your situation; then follow what he/she says. Remember most legal rulings, especially ones like this, do not apply to every person.

    No one here is belittling this issue; it’s one that we, unfortunately, are consumed with on a daily basis. I agree with the suggestion mentioned earlier to make dua’a before every possible interaction; Allah is most bountiful.

    Sh. Mokhtar Maghroui stated something this past weekend that has affected me greatly and that I pray to Allah we inculcate within ourselves. He said (paraphrase) that in order for our outward actions to have true meaning we must carry the Garden in our hearts. His lecture made me recall the response that Imam Magid gave us on Hajj when we asked him about the best dua’a to make while performing the rites: “that which comes from your heart.”

    Finally, as Sh. Qadhi has repeatedly reminded us, we should not be so arrogant as to ever think that a sin of ours is beyond Allah’s boundless mercy.

    Walhumdulillahi Rabb al Alameen.
    Ma’salaam.

  46. Mahin F Islam says:

    I think it depends on the company.

    For someone who works at some financial company like JP Morgan, it would have to be tougher.

    Engineering seems to be easier. I know a brother at TI who wear a shalwar kameez and topi to work b/c they don’t have to interact with anyone.

    Many large companies have to make amends for us because the only thing that could take them out is a lawsuit. GE has locations where they actually have designated prayer rooms with rugs.

    Where I work, having a large beard is no issue at all and it’s at a medical device manufacturer. 1.5 hours off for Jumuah is fine too as long as you make up the half hour on Friday after or before work. Praying at work is cool as well.

    The only thing I haven’t tested is going around with a long shirt over dress pants (untucked to cover the awrah). Seems like everyone tucks their shirt in, even though they might be wearing jeans. On Casual Fridays, I can get away with untucking my shirt.

    The main issue I find is when going through the interview process because the potential employer doesn’t know you. If you have a long beard, the interviewer might not discriminate against you for ‘following the Sunnah’ but could do so for being scruffy looking. I would assume that most employers don’t even know about the obligation of the lihya but they would see a scruffy looking dude. Yus and I know someone who interviewed at GE; he had a long beard and afterwards they said his appearance was the reason he didn’t get the position.

    As for pants, I get mine hemmed up just so they hit the ankles and they don’t fall below. Besides my parents, no one notices.

    Ahmad, you must work in a department that doesn’t require masks I’m assuming; as Amad mentioned many oil and gas jobs require you to be clean shaven.

    In the end, as mentioned..the rizq is from Allaah.

  47. ...Niamah says:

    I must say some of the responses on avoiding handshake are hilarious =) (If i wasnt working in corporate america then i would be like why cant u just take this opportunity to do dawah but its definitely not as easy) khairrr what else besides handshake?

    How many of you take your lunch break with co workers? and hear them talking about most useless and nasty things (then u wonder arent these people supposed to be educated and elliet class) but i always make sure that i dont take part in conversations which are initiated to backbite about boss, or to make fun of another co worker =)

  48. Abu Abdurrahman says:

    @Umm Layth

    That opinion of the Shaf’iyyah is ‘interesting’ for a shaf’i person or someone who has the tools of ijtihaad and can distinguish between the adillah (proofs) of the madhaahib.

    Or else why not just go shopping ….for fatwa’s that is :)

    Sorry to come across rather strict or what have you..but the problem, as I see it, and of course all knowledge belongs to Allah, is that we are slowly creeping into a situation where people will no longer know the meaning of struggling in the path of Allah, and putting up with certain difficulties for the sake of their deen. Of course priorities have to be set, and the fiqh of a given situation also needs to be taken into cosideration.

    It’s very easy for me to sit here and say such – to myself first and foremost of course, but I only said it ‘coz it’s an important point that we are all forgetting, when we pursue these dispensations.

    And Allah alone knows best.

  49. aarij says:

    “A sin is a sin, no matter how ’small’. It’s worse to fall into sin while knowing it is a sin, as well. Such a way of thinking will cause a person to lose his connection with Allah. Atleast feel awful for it, but no need to make it a unimportant.

    I remember listening to a lecture and the speaker said, ‘Belittling a sin is a sin in itself’. And honestly a believer who wants to better his life and make Allah his goal always aims (it is hard but we try, right?) to abstain from not just the sins but the makruhat. Not to mention, how can one make sincere tawba if they constantly think ‘well, my sin isn’t that big, so no biggie’. It would make that tawba invalid, don’t you think?”

    Sister, with all due respect, that is not what I said neither what I implied. My point was that many times people would commit an arguably bigger sin (lying) to avoid this sin of shaking hands with the opposite gender…which is why its important to keep in mind the magnitude of the sin. No one is saying that you belittle a sin on purpose or trivialize the maghfirah of AlGhaffoor, but at the same time it’s important to keep things in perspective.

    Without a doubt, feeling guilty is tawbah and without having guilt for committing a sin, a person can never do a tawbah that is nasooha (sincere). But, the reality is that people DO fall into sins while knowing that they are sins…and for them, the hope that such-and-such is a minor sin and Allah will forgive this sin is much more valuable than anything that you can tell them.

  50. Umm Layth says:

    Jazaka Allahu khairan for clarifying what you meant, but also understand that my post was general also. It’s one of the biggest things we have to fight our own ego in. It’s easy for our nafs to tell us, ‘it was just a handshake!’ or ‘it was just one moment of anger!’ or whatever it is. It’s hard to defeat this, but we gotta try, hard. may Allah aid us against our nafs and shaytan. ameen

  51. Abu Hafsa says:

    My first post on this website, so here goes:

    I agree with br. Abdullah’s comment that “The real world is not a fiqh book”. The reality is that from a purely fiqh perspective there are many other things (apart from shaking hands or shaving the beard) that we compromise on at the workplace e.g. looking/smiling at women, listening to music at company meetings, attending mixed lunches/meetings etc. In fact, many scholars will say that ‘interacting socially’ with non-Muslims is not allowed unless it’s purely for Dawah.

    In the real world, all of us deal with these issues every day. Sometimes we find the strength to face them without compromising, sometimes not. It depends on many factors. I feel that there is a big disconnect between how we are in reality and what we find in the books and fatwas – basically between the way we are and the way we’re supposed to be as pious, Allah-fearing Muslims. For example, I remember a salafi shaykh saying that our interaction with non-muslims at work should be limited to ‘Good morning ma’am @ 9:00am and Goodbye ma’am @ 5:00pm’. This is what a fiqh book might say, but is it good manners or even according to human nature? I mean, if you take a day off work because your kids are sick, and a lady co-worker asks about them the next day and goes off into a long rant about doctors and the state of the health-care system, what are you supposed to do? ‘Good-bye ma’am. I can’t talk to you unless you’re interested in learning about Islam’? Is the Shaykh disconnected from reality or am I?

    There are so many aspects of our lives outside of work where the same situations arise. Should we smile at the sales clerk at the grocery store when they do the same (without any sexual intentions of course)? Fiqh books and fatwas from Saudi Arabia will tell you NO under all circumstances. But doesn’t it seem rude if we return a smile with a frown or a stern look? How do we conduct ourselves without coming off as rude, offensive, or totally weird yet at the same time don’t feel like we are disobeying Allah (SWT)? I think a lot of us struggle with these questions. I know that I do.

    Some of us will say that it ultimately boils down to our eemaan and self-esteem. But I feel that’s a very simplistic view of a very complex situation. Human interactions and behaviors are more complicated. One person might be able to pull-off the ‘I only shake hands if you’re ugly or old’ trick, but I know that I can’t without appearing stupid, awkward, or both. I might be able to refuse shaking hands with a woman if we’re alone but I might find it extremely difficult if I was in a board meeting with 15 men and one woman and I go around the table shaking hands with everyone but then have to go into a 5 minute explanation (on the spot) when it comes to the woman. I know that if I truly feared Allah (SWT) above all else it wouldn’t be an issue – but then if I truly feared Allah (SWT) and had true tawakkal I would go to Saudi Arabia and live the rest of my life sweeping the floor of the Haram because that’s all I need to survive in this world and enter Jannah. Unfortunately most of us don’t live in this state of Ihsaan. Not everyone is Fudayl ibn Iyad or Sufyaan Al-Thawri. All we can hope for us is to compensate for our bad deeds with good deeds – worship Allah alone, be kind and good to our parents, and have a good and clean heart towards others and be kind and gentle to others and hope for Allah’s Mercy and Forgiveness on the Day of Judgement. He is Most Aware of our situations and intentions.

    Sorry for the long rant – just my 2cents worth.

  52. AnonyMouse says:

    Brother Abu Hafsa, welcome to MuslimMatters! Insha’Allah you’ll find it a place of benefit.

    On the subject of real world vs. fiqh books, I really don’t think it’s as difficult as we make it.
    Yes, we may not be following the customs of the land – but if you explain why, and you have good manners in doing so, then most people won’t get angry or offended at all… or so I’ve found.
    Not smiling at people of the opposite gender doesn’t mean scowling at them – one can maintain a pleasant demeanour without being overly familiar. You can have good manners and a good professional relationship with those of the opposite gender without doing those things that they’re used to (e.g. shaking hands, going out to lunch/ dinner, etc.). Sure, they might find it a bit strange at first but after a while they’ll get used to it and it shouldn’t be a big problem.

    Really, I think it’s a matter of just using our brains. We know the Sunnah, and we know ourselves and the people around us. Putting two and two together isn’t that hard!

  53. Umm Reem says:

    “It’s worse to fall into sin while knowing it is a sin, as well.”

    hmm…i’ve learned just the opposite. If we fall into a sin knowing it is a sin then, at least, there is a chance we will repent.

    I think this matter of ‘professionalism’ can only be best understood by those of you who work and have to go through this issue everyday. Those of us who don’t work, housewives/students, are ‘protected’ from the difficulties of it that y’all face.

    It seems easier to refuse a handshake at a grocery store or doctor’s clinic where it is just a one time interaction compared to at work where a person has to go everyday, wAllahu ‘alam.

  54. Bint Amina says:

    “Not everyone is Fudayl ibn Iyad or Sufyaan Al-Thawri.”

    But we can aspire to be like them. While we may never reach their station of piety and righteousness, their stories and the likes of them stand before us inherently as a lesson of that which we hope to emulate, inshaa’Allaah ta’ala.

    Of course the statement itself is a valid one, but what is feared are the implications it may engender – ultimately, an excuse for our heedlessness. By virtue of living in a society where those who practice Islaam is not the majority, we may find ourselves in situations where we may compromise our deen, or rather have the opportunity to, this situation may present itself often or infrequently.

    However, in such situations, it is our consciousness of Allaah ta’ala (the fact that we shall never escape His Sight, our duty to Him, and our ultimate purpose) that shall inshaa’Allaah thwart such fitnah from our path and given the decision we shall choose the path more pleasing to Allah ta’ala, even if it means by taking this path we may displease the people. Let us remember the hadeeth wherein the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam states: “He who pleases the people by angering Allaah, Allaah will entrust him to the people.” SubhaanAllah. Yet still, inshaaAllah pleasing Allaah ta’ala is not always equated to displeasing the people, nor vice versa. With hikmah, inshaaAllah, we can avoid harmful situations exuding good character, and transforming the once potentially harmful situation into a da’wah opportunity.

    Inevitably we face challenges in our respective societies, what’s more we also encounter excuses for our shortcomings, whether our own or someone else’s. Of these excuses is when we look at our society today and compare it to the society as it was in the time of the Salaf and think to ourselves that they are completely different worlds and that we cannot be expected to exude ‘ibadah at such a level (of the pious ones of the past – may Allah be pleased with them). Such a mentality may cause us to belittle our shortcomings and cut off the aspirations that we may receive from their stories.

    Realize their stories aren’t relayed to us so that we may equate ourselves with them, but they are a source of inspiration, of motivation, and a reminder for us all. So instead of the deafitist mentality of ‘never being able to reach their station’, let us instead seek to emulate them and implement what is learned from them, ultimately hoping to honor their struggles.

    Furthermore, remember that Shaytaan has given up misguiding those who are steadfast in deen in the greater matters of Islaam and seeks to miguide them in the ‘minor’ aspects. Thus, let us not try and belittle a sin, either by thinking it is not great in the sight of Allah or that it will eventually be wiped away. Surely we know not if our repentence will bring about forgiveness nor if our laboring in the cause of Allah shall be accepted of us; for Al-Hasan Al-Basree said: “The righteous salaf were as fearful of their good deeds being squandered, or not being accepted, as the present generation is certain that their neglect would be forgiven.”

    May we live our lives in accordance to the Qur’aan and Sunnah and receive admonition from the stories of the Salaf. May we not compromise our deen for the worldly life and may Allah ta’ala reward us for our struggles. Allahumma Ameen

    *The above is not only in accord with the professional environment, but inshaaAllah all facets of life. It is a reminder to myself, before anyone else.

    Wa Salamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatu

  55. Dawud Israel says:

    There were times when Rasulullah SAAWS and would offer a woman a ride on the horse because she was all alone. But she would refuse respecting the dignity of her husband.
    So yeah, use your head.

    In our society, I think it would be best to be overtly social, to the point it may seem like you are flirting. Be the LIFE of the place. No touching though.

    Example: You know person X is so busy they can’t leave work for lunch. You ask them them out for lunch right before you leave anyways however knowing they will say no. Even if they are female. You then bring them some food without them asking.

    Get the pic? They ain’t going to respect you for your religiousness (beard, etc) but when they see actions they will.

  56. Umm Layth says:

    ///Those of us who don’t work, housewives/students, are ‘protected’ from the difficulties of it that y’all face.\\\

    We are ‘protected’ somewhat. That doesn’t mean we’ve not been in their shoes. Some have worked, dealt with the same people on a regular basis for a long time until they removed themselves of that situation and just learned to deal with it. Nevertheless, we should strive, be encouraging, and offer ways to avoid these situations, period.

  57. Umm Layth says:

    ///hmm…i’ve learned just the opposite. If we fall into a sin knowing it is a sin then, at least, there is a chance we will repent.\\\

    We are not accountable for that which we are unaware of.

  58. Hani says:

    In my jahiliya days I also was emplyed at MS Dean Witter and i wanted to let you people know of my personal experience:
    at that time i never grew my beard and would go home and try and catch up with all my prayers after work as having tried my boss said: “this place is for work not for prayers, you need to go home and do that not here”. Anyway one morning I had to get into work at 5am and I had no time to shave – my hair on my chin can grow pretty quickly even after just one day – when i got into work my boss gave me a funny look – you know the environment was open plan and there must have been maybe 50 or more people in that room. My boss came up to me and said ” forgotten to shave have we?” I simply ignored him and went on my way. The boss then turned round and shouted out to all the people: ” we are doing a collection for x as he cannot afford a shaver”. He later came to me with a shaver stating that ” all staff had generously donated” and that he 2wanted me to go and shave in the toilets”
    These days I have a full beard alhamdolillah and am having difficulty getting into any work let alone “professional”. Having had numerous interviews and knowing that the work was matching my experience, I once went for an interview and the lady interviewing was a asian muslim. She put her hand out to shake my hands and I said sorry i dont shake hands. She immediately turned round to her collegue and said: ” you know this must be the shortest interview ever done by me”, and terminated the interview.

  59. Abu says:

    In my jahiliya days I also was emplyed at MS Dean Witter and i wanted to let you people know of my personal experience:
    at that time i never grew my beard and would go home and try and catch up with all my prayers after work as having tried my boss said: “this place is for work not for prayers, you need to go home and do that not here”. Anyway one morning I had to get into work at 5am and I had no time to shave – my hair on my chin can grow pretty quickly even after just one day – when i got into work my boss gave me a funny look – you know the environment was open plan and there must have been maybe 50 or more people in that room. My boss came up to me and said ” forgotten to shave have we?” I simply ignored him and went on my way. The boss then turned round and shouted out to all the people: ” we are doing a collection for x as he cannot afford a shaver”. He later came to me with a shaver stating that ” all staff had generously donated” and that he “wanted me to go and shave in the toilets” I told him to go and stick it up his behind.
    These days I have a full beard alhamdolillah and am having difficulty getting into any work let alone “professional” work. Having had numerous interviews and knowing that the work was matching my experience, I once went for an interview and the lady interviewing was an asian muslim. She put her hand out to shake my hands and I said sorry i dont shake hands. She immediately turned round to her collegue and said: ” you know this must be the shortest interview ever done by me”, and terminated the interview there and then”. I asked was there a problem and she replied ” i am sorry i do not wish to go ahead with the interview”. I simply did not wish to argue or make any point to her and left thinking you sad person.
    The professional place today is full of muslims and it is most shocking to have the kefar attitude coming from them – i use the term kafirisation – thats what a lot of professional muslims have been through and become sad to say. I ask Allah to forgive me and all muslims – professional included.

  60. Abu Hafsa says:

    Br. Hani,

    I am saddened to hear about your experiences.

    To AnonyMouse’s: Jazakallahu khair for the warm welcome.

    When I first started practicing, I thought I ‘knew the sunnah’ – which came to me from only one source – one set of scholars – and a few websites – and I thought this was the Whole Truth in it’s entirety and anything contrary to it is contrary to the Sunnah. But as I contune to learn, I find that things aren’t clear-cut as I had imagined them to be. The sunnah is dynamic and the rulings change depending on the person, his environment, his culture, and the society that he’s living in.

    For example, I recently (directly) heard Shaykh Ibrahim Dremali say that if a person is in an airport or airplane and he feels that by praying standing he will attract undue attention or harrasment then he can pray sitting so as not to lose his Khushoo. Now, the qiyam is a pillar of the salat, and the person is NOT facing a direct and imminent threat to his life or limb. But the scholar feels that he can pray sitting to avoid a little uneasiness and hardship.

    Similarly about shaking hands see this:

    http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaE&cid=1119503546332

    A lot of questions come to mind regarding similar issues. Is ‘smiling’ in the West the same as smiling to a woman in Saudi Arabia? I don’t think so. Here it’s just considered polite, in Saudi, flirting. So does it take a different ruling here? May be, may be not.

    My point is that we need scholars who live in this society and in this culture to explain clearly to us what is and what isn’t the sunnah. I don’t think anyone’s done this yet.

    Besides, your reply was a classic textbook reply. In the real world, some people/situations make it more difficult to ‘explain to someone in a polite’ way because of the place, time, or the personality of the person you’re dealing with. Bottom line: You can’t paint every thing with a big brush and say it’s all very easy – because it were that easy – we wouldn’t have this discussion in the first place and brothers/sisters wouldn’t have to do things like:

    – hide in the bathroom
    – cough in their hands
    – linger behind a meeting
    – tell lies or invent stories (pink eye)
    – say awkward things like ‘i would only shake your hands if you’re ugly or old’ etc. etc.

    to avoid a handshake. This all proves that brothers/sisters don’t find these situation that comfortable, ‘normal’, or easy to deal with.

    Secondly, this may be harder for some than for others because of the personality of that individual. Its’ like saying to someone who’s shy/introvert – “come on public speaking is so easy – why don’t you just get up on stage and say what’s on your mind – I do it every day.” Well… that’s YOU. Not every one can be as articulate and suave or ‘pull-it-of’ without embarassment.

    It may also have to do with one’s profession: A male realtor or lawyer who meets with tens of female clients every day may find it burdensome to have to explain to each one why he isn’t shaking their hand – and that’s besides the possibility of losing out on them as clients.

    BTW, I am not advocating shaking hands with the opposite gender, I am just saying that it’s not black and white and we have to be compassionate and let the scholars who live here come forward and guide us to what’s right according to our situation and circumstances.

    Wallahu alam, may Allah guide us all to the correct understanding.

  61. Faraz says:

    Abu/Hani – those incidents you mentioned are very sad. Don’t let them discourage you, you were probably better off not working there in the first place.

  62. Abdullah says:

    Jazakum Allahu Khair for all of the responses. This has been an insightful discussion. I agree with Abu Hafsa as well. Things aren’t black and white. I think this is the heart of the matter.

    Like I said earlier, some people put obstacles in front of them. And they think from the deepest in their hearts that the reaction they get is all part of the struggle. I know people that dress like Arabs or Pakistanis and they think this is part of the Sunnah and they think that all of the problems they face because of dressing that way is part of the struggle. They think it is a test of faith.

    I tell them akhi dress is part of customs and not required and it is actually recommended to dress like the locals as Sheikh Yasir Birjas mentioned to us in fiqh class. But people still don’t care.

    The point being that just because you struggle with an issue it does NOT make that issue correct. I sometimes get a feeling from people that they think the worse the reaction the more correct their actions are. And the common response from them is that this is a test and rizq is from Allah.

    Of course rizq is from Allah but did you ever think what if it’s not a test. What if we are creating tests that are in reality non-issues.

    The struggle is not in growing a huge messy beard, pants above the ankles, dressing like an Arab, and shaking hands.

    Having to put up with co-workers lunch time conversations and do da’wa–now that is the real struggle.

  63. Danya says:

    I tell men they have cooties when they’ve tried to shake my hand then I tell them the real reason. After a laugh, it’s not so hard telling them why I really can’t shake. Although, I’m still a student so I don’t know how that would work out once I become employed insha’Allah. I like to pre-empt it but just telling people before I’m put in that situation and after awhile people just know that you don’t shake hands.

    Of course, it becomes a bit more difficult when you have other Muslims who are more lenient about it and you might get comments like “but Mohammad/Fatima shakes hands” and then you have to go into the “Muslims are not a monolith bit…”

  64. As salaamu alaikum

    MashaAllah this is a very relevant and nice post.

    Actually I took the Usool AlFiqh class too and from what I remember, Sheikh Yaser said in his opinion, a brother/sister may be rewarded for their intention to follow the Sunnah, even in matters not related to worship (such as wearing a thobe, etc.) There’s a difference of opinion on this, and I just wanted to clarify that this is what I understood from the class.

    With that being said, I agree that it is very hard to practice the Sunnah in the professional world, and may Allah make it easy on us. It’s important for the long term vision of the Muslim Ummah in the West that we get integrated into many diverse professions and fields, but compromising our faith will be indicative of lack of eeman and lack of clarity in the vision.

    For example, we may be lax on the hand-shaking issue or issue of attending office parties with alcohol, but let me ask you this: in 100 years, wouldn’t you want the situation of Muslims in the West to be such that they DON’T have to do this? So they can be free to practice Islam 100%? If that’s the END we see, why should the means be any different? If we die today and Allah asks us: Why did you shake hands with non-mahram people at work, will we say “it was for the greater good so people won’t hate Muslims!” ? Do we forget sometimes that Islam is first about our relationship with our Lord, Allah?

    I’m speaking to myself first because I attend a public high school and wear hijab/jilbaab and am still very active in school clubs and I’m on a very elite competitive civics team on campus. I feel like I’m sometimes put in compromising situations such as the team members mixing a lot and in competition, there will be really high ranking officials (later on, US Supreme court Justices!) who will judge us, and not shaking hands will be a big deal, I can tell. But I’ve made up my mind that my Aakhirah is more important to me since I don’t know if it is THIS SIN which I consider to be small which will take me into Hell-fire. Allah knows best. In the end, I am doing my best to please Allah and trying to learn as much as I can to help the Muslim Ummah at large. But I want to make sure that my ‘vision’ I’m not a hypocrite and I actually do my best to please Allah.

    Because what is the point of developing such an Ummah that cares about the social progression of the Muslims (more in a cultural and identity sense) when those Muslims are not focusing on their ultimate purpose, to please Allah? We never know with what small actions we do we are influencing our paradigms and decision making routines, and they might become such habits that we disregard them and lose track of why we’re even here in the world…

    So anyway, sorry for the rambling, but two points on compromising, in my humble opinion:

    1) Compromising our Deen is, firstly, contradicting our Vision for the Ummah. If we do not do our best to please Allah today, how can we claim to build Muslim unity and revival tomorrow?

    2) If we displease Allah (may Allah forgive me and all of us, ameen) then there will be no barakah in any of our pursuits.

    So….. it’s very difficult to observe the Sunnah and be practicing Muslims in the ‘professional’ world but inshaAllah if we keep our priorities straight & do our best to hold on to the Rope of Allah, He will help us.

    May Allah keep us firm on His Straight Path and guide all of humanity to Islam and to Paradise, ameen.

  65. Abdullah says:

    I completely agree with you sister. Compromising is not an option. But I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. I’m saying it is not compromising when it is not a haram issue like keeping a neat beard and wearing regular pants. This is the point i am trying to make. I am not asking for people to compromise on known haram issues like alcohol.

    I have to disagree when people say that “it’s very difficult to observe the Sunnah and be practicing Muslims in the ‘professional’ world”.

    From my experience, it is very easy to be a professional Muslim. The only problems I ever run into is the alcohol issue. That is a compromise but I try my best to avoid it. As for shaking hands, of course it’s better to avoid it but I don’t give it more attention than it deserves. We’re not talking about hugs and flirting, we are talking about something that some say its purpose is to “convey trust, balance, and equality”

    Wa Allahu ‘Alam

    ameen to all your dua’s by the way

  66. Abu Hafsa says:

    I comletely agree with brother Abdullah. I would like to add that before we claim about an issue that ‘compromising is not an option’ first we need to be absolutely sure that the shariah does not at all allow compromising on that issue.

    As an example: Many brothers think that wearing a tie is against the Sunnah and they will not wear a suit or a tie to an interview claiming it is against the Sunnah. Fatwas exist to support this opinion. But many scholars hold the opposite opinion and I have in fact seen many scholars wear ties. The fact is that the ruling of if a tie is imitation of the kuffar changes from one culture/region to another. So why does a brother have to make it difficult for himself and his family if the shariah allows room in this issue? Isn’t earning halal rizq for your family sunnah too? Isn’t pleasing your parents by getting a decent job sunnah too?

    Over the last 12-13 years or so I have observed a pattern in our umma, especially in the West. It is that we are overly zealous about those aspects of the deen that have to do with *showing* piety to others:
    beard/thawb/isbaal/hijaab/gender mixing but we show little concern about things like back-biting/lying/cheating/community service/kindness to parents/helping members of the community etc. It seems like we like to wear our deen on our sleeves, not in our hearts.

    Does the whole Sunnah and the entire deen revolve only around dress and external appearance? Sorry to say, I’ve seen many a brother wear a long beard and thawb above his shin while being ‘out-of-status’ on his F-1 visa. His parents break their back trying to support his education in the USA, but he cannot ‘compromise on his deen and enroll at the university’. Eventually the brother is caught and deported home. What is amazing is that many practising muslims will support this brother’s actions because of his external appearance and ‘adherence to the sunnah’ even though he is 1) lying to his parents 2) disobeying his parents 3) wasting their money 4 ) lying to the government 5) breaking the country’s laws 6) violating his visa contract. Is this sunnah?

    This may be an extreme example but this can be extrapolated to many problems that brothers create for themselves in the professional world.

    And Allah knows best.

  67. Yus from the Nati says:

    Is it just me or are blue collar jobs the easiest to observe the sunnah (obligatory OR optional). Being a janitor doesn’t require crap, working at a local grocery store, or at the steel mill.

    All those jobs that seem to not need a “higher” level of “academic” education, you’re straight. But it just sucks because you got money situations then.

    I wonder if this is something to look into…or is it a nafs thing…where you’d prostitute yourself to get that dollar (according to which opinion you follow of prostituting yourself) haha ok I’m going to stop. But seriously…how many of us would drop that high paying job to do a crappy one all for the sake of Allah?

    Seacrest OUT!

  68. Abu Abdulrahman says:

    As salaamu alaykum to you all, my take on the issue is as follows:

    Professionalism and the observance of Sunnah are not mutually exclusive. The more true love we have for the Prophet, peace be upon him, the easier it is to follow his recommendation. This does not mean we will not be tested. It is the way of Allaah to test people, especially the ones He loves (Q29 V 2). If we pass the test, we move a little higher in His sight.

    First Hijab/Jilbab
    We all know that this is the commandment of Allah, so there’s no question about. If a sister’s professionalism means ‘take off the hijaab’ whether gradually or immediately, she should trash the job. I know ‘professionalism’ has now become synonymous with compromise, but we have to say the truth.

    Our sisters who are professionals and who observe the proper hijaab deserve praise and prayers. We ask that Allah ease their ways. Now, everyone needs the hijaab is not compatible with certain lifestyles. The same goes for Muslims who stand out (hijaab, beard, thawb). Their appearance is da’wah on it’s own, according to scholars. So we should not find a Muslim in a mixed gathering where the proper etiquettes are not observed. A sister may be more affected in such environments perhaps the men may see her a ‘chic’ of a different brand (as far as they are concerned it’s just a cloth). So avoid such parties.

    Finally, I believe that the main reason we compromise these important commandments and recommendations is so that people love or have a good impression of us. The bad news is that we seek satisfy someone whose heart is in the Hands of the One we disobey. Let’s all ask for forgiveness and get on the Deen!

  69. Abu Abdulrahman says:

    In response to brother Hani’s piece, the Prophet has assured us that if we give up something for the sake of Allah, Allah will give us something better (not exact wording). Do not worry, it’s a good sign.

    Concentrate on dua and Allah will provide for you and give you contentment, the actual definition of wealth according to the Prophet. Professionalism does not guarantee contentment. Whatever halal job you undertake, your sustenance will neither increase nor decrease!

  70. SaqibSaab says:

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    WOW this has gotten a *lot* of comments, masha’Allah.

    One story I have:

    I interviewed at one big-time place that I really wanted to nail for an accounting internship. After getting in touch with them, I found the HR rep I spoke to was female, the names she gave me or managers were female, and so on and so forth. I knew my hand was in for it.

    So I Emailed the HR rep ahead of time explaining how I’m Muslim and for religious reasons I don’t shake hands with women; that it’s not a gesture of disrespect, all of that good stuff; and if she could please notify the other associates and women interviewing me that’d be awesome. I thought I was totally good to go.

    When I showed up, none of them seemed to have received the memo. I had to explain to each and every female staff member I came in touch with my position. Turns out the HR rep never received my Email! It was tough, but alhumdulillah the good news is I went through with it and didn’t shake any female’s hands.

    The bad news? I didn’t get the job =/. I had really wanted this position. Not only did this company conveniently have its corporate headquarters LITEARLLY 1.1 miles from my house, it’s a company many young brothers my age would love to work at (let’s just say this company is reponsible for manufacturing such products known as the Boxster, the Cayenne, the Cayman, the Carrera, etc.).

    Alhumdulillah, a good learning experience, and definitely a solid tip that I’d recommend: letting the HR rep/recruiter know ahead of time via Email or phone. I hope this tip works for all of you guys when you’re out looking about. =)

    Saqib

  71. Abu Abdurrahman says:

    Something to think about from Bro Abu Abdulrahman’s comments [NB The names are spelt differently…AbduLrahman..and Abdurrahman..]

    @saqib bro, perhaps the most suitable thing to be born in mind for you in your current situation: “it might be that you dislike something and it be good for you, and it might be that you like something and it is bad for you..Allah knows, and you know not.”

    May Allah provide you with better from His Counternance, ameen.

    wassalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

  72. Dawud Israel says:

    Do you guys think it would be easier for us guys if we had some sort of religious symbol like the hijab?

    Isn’t the turban sunnah?

  73. ibnabeeomar says:

    dawud.. you mean like the beard? :)

  74. Seeker7 says:

    Is wearing a thobe really sunnah? I don’t mean that in a harsh manner but didn’t the Prophe salAllahu alayhi wa sallam and the companions wear an izaar (basically ihram)…isn’t the thobe just the clothing of the arabs in general…i’ve always wondered this, I would appreciate if someone could discuss it. wa Allahu ‘alam!

  75. Amad says:

    As far as I know there is no Sunnah in wearing the Thobe… it is a cultural thing. In fact, the thobe of today doesn’t even represent the clothing that the Prophet (S) and the Sahaba wore.

    In fact, any clothing is ok as long as it meets the general requirements of Islamic dress, such as not being overly tight and not a clear imitation of the disbelievers (i.e. wearing something that is only common to a singer or a rockstar, etc. and that if someone saw you in that dress, the culture would consider you imitating). Further clarification on the last point because it is often misunderstood as some Shaykh explained to me: If you were a bedouin, and go back to your vilage where everyone wears a thobe, and you show up in a leather pant and tight shirt, it is obvoius that you are imitating a non-cultural entity that is not Muslim, so that would be wrong. However, if everyone in that village starts wearing leather pants and it becomes a norm, so that one day in the future your wearing it does not reflect any message, then the situation changes. It is all about the situation. So, pants/shirts in the West, for instance, are completely fine as no one can come up to you and tell you that you are imitating anyone else. In fact, in many Muslim countries, pants and shirts are the normal clothes now!

    Of course the best dress is the shalwar kameez— great at hiding pot-bellies for uncles (disclaimer: I do NOT have one), and extremely comfortable ;)

  76. SaqibSaab says:

    @saqib bro, perhaps the most suitable thing to be born in mind for you in your current situation: “it might be that you dislike something and it be good for you, and it might be that you like something and it is bad for you..Allah knows, and you know not.”

    May Allah provide you with better from His Counternance, ameen.

    Abu Abdurrahman: I forgot to write the ending to the story. I ended up interviewing at a place that was much better and was actually totally cool with all that I need as a Muslim, alhumdulillah. Allah (SWT) always hooks it up. =)

  77. Musa Maguire says:

    Amad,

    Your wife is a good cook…you’ll have one soon enough (hopefully not this month!).

    Musa

  78. Amad says:

    as they say “ghar kee murghi daal braabar” … that would be in Urdu… home-cooked chicken is equal to lentils i.e. what you get at home or get easily is not as appreciated as something that you get outside or with difficulty :)

    But she is a good cook, so i have taken up running 2 miles a day to keep up ;)

  79. Aniz says:

    Perhaps if you don’t want to shake hands with the opposite sex, etc. You should just stay in your home country. (If I was in your country, I would honor your ways, in spite of the fact that I found them offensive.)

  80. Shaking Hands:
    I simply tell my co-workers politely that for religious reasons I can’t shake hands, and I put my hand on my chest instead of simply pulling it away or not taking their hand. That I made some motion seems to have some effect, and that I have an answer ready and rehearsed makes its short delivery very easy. Having a long beard also lends legitimacy to my being different.

    The Beard:
    I take the opinion that you don’t touch the beard, and I pretty much don’t. When I interviewed, first and foremost, I made du’aa to Allah subhaana wa ta’aala and then I prepared relentlessly by going over technical questions as well as HR type questions. The beard became irrelevant. I also made small talk with the interviewers about random things that had nothing to do with the interview in order that they could see that beneath that monstrous looking beard was a normal dude who grew up in North America.

    Siraaj

  81. […] See also: Observing the Sunnah in the Professional World […]

  82. fatima says:

    Ma’ashallah, it makes me feel better that i’m not alone in this trial.
    I work for an international organisation where it appears we invented professionalism…
    you can imagine me in my jilbab and proper hijab and also declining to shake hands.
    Although subhanallah, at one time, a colleague of mine made a light joke that I dont shake
    hands and every one laughed…i dont remember the joke but it lighten the situation abit…nonetheless
    in other situation, it can be much more difficult especially when people offer me their hand and I decline,
    they automatically think that i’ve dismissed them, so the other formalties of asking my name and introductions
    are ALWAYS skipped. I try to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t sake hands”. and quickly add, “how are you”, or else,
    by reflex, they quickly move away to the next person.
    I had nightmares of having to shake hands when I first started the job, now, life has hardened me so I don’t hesistate to
    inform them and hold on to my dear hands…. People all over the world have certain religious and cultural values and really,
    it’s actually found to be interesting to some people, hence bowing is not seen as weird, so why should witholding my hand be weird.
    We follow Allah and His Prophet s.a.w, not the pleasure of the misguided. Alhamdulila :)

  83. fatima says:

    Abu Muhammed,
    your recommendations got me into stitches of laughter, subhanallah.
    It’s amazing because i’ve tried most of them, probably the folder bit
    many a times…at home, with families, i try to hold household items, like
    hands filled with clothes like am taking them to laundry or anything
    that could be convincing…
    I hope it’s not a sin to say that Allah may sometimes smile at the tricks
    of His servants.

  84. fatima says:

    Should we all write a book about “A guide for non-muslims working with muslims” , or any better title you can think of.
    By Allah, i’ve always wanted to do this. Sisters what do you think?
    if you agree, i hope it’s not against the rules to state my email add:- sisterfatima1@googlemail.com

  85. Gohar says:

    TIP: When i do shake hands (i know its wrong), i sometimes add with humour “I’ll get into trouble for that”, since that invites them to ask why without being offended at the same time. At least then they will remember for the future, and you won’t have to do it again hopefully .

    Of course, for some professions (e.g;. doctors) not shaking hands with a woman who you’re going to be examining physically anyway can seem extra pointless. I wonder whether there is any leeway in such circumstances.

  86. Gohar says:

    TIP 2: I was once on an interview panal, and knowing that verbally refusing to handshake would be highly impossible there, i got hold of a wrist splint and told each interviewee that i had a wrist injury and therefore couldn’t shake hands. It won’t work on a long-term basis, but might be a solution for those very difficult times when first impressions are the only impressions and someone really doesn’t want to compromise on the Sunnah..

  87. Gohar says:

    I should clarify that my telling them my wrist was injured involved me simply pointing to the splint and saying hings such as “You’ll have to excuse me”.

  88. fatima says:

    Re: Gohar,

    I’m glad you clarified that you didn’t say anything verbally as I was worried that avoiding one sin is leading you to another of having to lie. I mean well by this.
    Although mind you if you got that job, you’re bound at some point to have to really
    tell them that you don’t shake hands. Infact, I rather inform them at the interview and let them accept and respect me as I am, then later.
    But I guess it’s not always so easy for any of us.

  89. fatima says:

    Re: Re: Gohar.

    With the doctor bit, maybe look at it this way, if the doctor is examining you, he can might as well shake your hand, if he can examin you and shake your hand, you can might as well accept his invitation to dinner, if he can examin you, shake your hand, take you out to dinner, you can might as well accept a kiss on the cheek, …
    So we must nip it in the bud at the get go and know that the shaitan looooves a leeway to take us further one step at a time.

  90. KK says:

    I work for the Police in the UK LOL…and unfortunately, i sneak off for prayer in secret and log this time as a break, there is no prayer room nor proper facilities for washing. Additional to that promotion is something you can forget about, loss of privacy, workplace isolation and exclusion are the norm. And having the fist length beard as I do…just strikes fear into everyones hearts, since I grew my beard those who were once ‘OK’ interacting with me now ignore and are uncomfortable in facing me, all goodwill from colleagues is also gone. Key training opportunities, or jobs are given to colleagues, the list goes on and on…I am now looking to move on to a new organisation, which poses additional difficulties while having the ‘Muslim look’…anonymous as disclosure of identity can cause problems.

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