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 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,'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.


Affad Shaikh said...

"personally" i think the handshake thing is blown way out of proportion. While I admire people who do it, i find myself seeing it as limiting and not feasible.

I dont say change, no do what you have to, its a religious action. However, think of the fact that here in the West people have a hard enough time with Imams praying and people talking in a different language. If you are white or close to passing as white, there are far less limitation on you. People with white skin color can get away with stuff- I know I am being racist.

But being Muslim and (insert your pick) only makes things difficult. I think prioritizing is important in how we approach these practices. Then again I am not a scholar and only offering my personal opinion.

Yesi King said...

I really respect you Huda for sticking so closely to your beliefs. I personally don't like shaking hands because of germs so I try to avoid it. I don't have a problem with the whole shaking of hands with the opposite sex thing anymore, I used to though. I've noticed that in this society people are so disensitized that a casual handshake is just that, a casual handshake and a means to greet or show respect. However, if I think someone is being innapropriate I use the 'I don't shake hands' card on them.

Affad I don't think you are being racist, reality is reality and white/light skinned people do have it easier. period.

Kareem Elsayed said...

There are many nice techniques to avoiding the impending hand shake (as mentioned in the post), but I prefer the good-ole explain it approach. It is an opportunity to explain Islam to people, why would I neglect that chance? Maybe I won't get another chance to discuss Islam with that person.

Also, I think that matters of fiqh should be left to the scholars of fiqh and not to laymen like myself.

Affad Shaikh said...

I do agree with the fiqh.

But lets talk context. Because I think the issue makes sense when framed.

There are certain cricumstances, intimate in nature where you can give a lecture about Islamic gender relations. Heck I do that with people I work with on a regular basis. Then there are places where you just can not do that.

If I can, for me its an issue of where I am and what I am doing. I am not sure if that crosses the line of Fiqh, but I am acting as a bridge for Muslims and Non-Muslims.

An opportunity to be introduced into the Muslim world perspective might not start well with me lecturing them without having related to them in some way. I find later on when i explain to them my religious perspective.

I dont know, maybe I am bitter that I dont do that anymore. I need to see my therapist.