This issue may be brought up in the media or by non-Muslim individuals in the West who consider it to be odd. It’s the issue of Muslims not shaking hand with strangers of the opposite sex. Our Jewish friends follow the same practice. They call it Shomer Negiah and they say it goes back to the Bible.
In this video, the Muslims (Nouman Ali Khan and Hamza Yusuf), the Jewish lady (Andrea Grinberg) and a Christian preacher (Paul Washer, who laments at our Western society’s departure of valuing touch) really help us to value the teaching of not shaking hands or hugging with members of the opposite sex who you have no familial bond with. It’s heart warming as well as sad. Sad because this value for touch and guarding against sensual interactions with strangers of the opposite sex has been lost in the West. Watch the video, you’ll appreciate and/or understand the Islamic and Jewish teachings on this more.
The rule is that people of the opposite gender do not even touch each other, let alone shake hands, unless they are husband and wife, siblings, or children with parents and grandparents.
What is the rationale for the Jewish prohibition on men and women touching, let alone shaking hands?
The prohibition of touching (in Hebrew negiah) goes back to the Book of Leviticus (18:6 and 18:19) and was developed further in the Talmud. A person who observes this prohibition is often called a shomer negiаh. It applied not only to close contact such as hugging and kissing, but also to shaking hands or patting on the back. The practice is generally followed by traditionally observant Jews, both men and women, including Hassidic Jews, and those who are referred to as Haredim. It is also observed within the Modern Orthodox community depending on how traditional the person is. [Chabad.org]
Muslim scholar teaches the prohibition:
It is not permissible for a man who believes in Allaah and His Messenger to put his hand in the hand of a women who is not permissible for him or who is not one of his mahrams. Whoever does that has wronged himself (i.e., sinned).
It was narrated that Ma’qil ibn Yassaar said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “For one of you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle is better for him than that he should touch a woman who is not permissible for him.” [IsalmQA]
To remove any myths, it can be said emphatically that it has nothing to do with impurity, or with the social or religious status of people who encounter other people.
The reason is a rather complex, even Freudian rationale. It is felt that touching a person of the opposite gender is essentially a sexual act, or at least the precursor of a sexual act. While it is true that most handshakes between men and women do not lead to sexual relations and are not even contemplated, sexual relations always begin with touching. It is also true that a handshake does communicate feelings albeit on a superficial level.
It has been recognized however, that there are many instances in which men and women can and perhaps even should, touch each other. This would apply to saving a person who is facing a life-threatening danger. Members of the health professions may obviously touch members of the opposite gender in the practice of their discipline, as may hairdressers or physical therapists as a necessary component in the practice of theirs.
Traditional Judaism, unlike some other faiths, regards touching as a highly sensual act. It takes the view that it is not only an important part of marital relations, but one that is only permitted in those relations. To shake hands as a casual courtesy and nothing more is the first step leading to the desensitization of sensuality between husband and wife.
Rabbi Baruch Emmanuel Erdstein of Safed, who holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Michigan, states that “the casual touching of members of the opposite gender can only dull our sensitivity to the sexual power of touch.”
А Further Thought
Quite apart from the sexual analysis of some commentators, some commentators point out that an individual’s body is personal, and at times to even touch is an intrusion into one’s personal dignity. According to this approach, a man should not touch a woman, nor a woman touch a man, out of respect for the space of each other as individuals—especially individuals of the opposite gender who should reserve a certain level of privacy with respect to each other. [Chabad.org]