Friday, September 7, 2007
I wish we had business cards in grad school!
This post on MuslimMatters and the comments on it make some very good points and touch on an issue I've been wanting to blog about for a while now: the challenges of observing the Sunnah in the professional world, specifically the corporate world.
As a graduate student in the US, things like not shaking hands with the opposite gender or not attending gatherings where alcohol is consumed got 'in the way' sometimes, if you know what I mean. The hand shake thing was particularly awkward. I was much less 'social' than I would have liked to be: I avoided meeting visiting scientists or students as much as possible. I did the common tricks of carrying stuff to meetings to have my hands full, or coming in late and leaving early...you know, the usual.
It got better with time as I got more used to handling the situation but I just could not get over the uneasy feeling I had whenever I knew I was going to meet new people at school. I was comfortable explaining the reasoning behind the 'no hand shake' rule; however, in professional gatherings, there was never really the chance to do that properly.
Anyways, starting a job in the Dubai corporate world, I was interested to see how those issues would play out. I didn't know what to expect seeing that I had never 'worked' in a Muslim country, especially one with such a diverse population.
AlhamdulilAllah, it was actually easier than I expected. To start with, the people I work the closest with are females which is great: I can actually look them in the eye when tallking to them! Second, unlike in other Arab and Muslim countries, it is very much in the culture of UAE locals not to shake hands with the opposite gender. As for Arabs/Muslims from other regions of the world, they do understand when I don't extend my hand or decline to shake theirs (although sometimes that surprises them), so it's usually not very awkward.
Of course, there's also the non-Muslim colleagues/business partners or those Arabs/Muslims with an identity crisis...that's where it gets interesting.
I've noticed something about the corporate world, especially in meetings: it's all about the image (surprise, surprise!). The expensive suit, watch, cell phone, glasses, cufflings...it's all about the image. And of course, the arrogance that comes with the huge pay checks.
This is when I started gaining a new appreciation of the significance of Islamic guidelines especially for attire and social interactions. The top brand names don't usually make long skirt suits so it's easy for me to avoid spending half my salary on over-priced clothes or constantly comparing my wardrobe to others'. As for the hand shake, I love bursting a dude's ego and reminding him that I don't have to conform to stupid corporate 'rules'/expectations if they go against my personal beliefs. Also, I think it's a great reminder for me (and those around me), that- even at work-I should do what I do to please Allah, not anyone else.
I've learnt a really neat trick too: I always take plenty of business cards to meetings. When someone extends their hand to greet me, I smile and give him my business card! That way his hand isn't just stuck in the air. I wish we had business cards in grad school!
Anyways, I'll stop here and look forward to hear your opinions and stories on this issue.