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Handshake: How Religious Leaders Perceive It

By Chris Irekamba
01 August 2015   |   11:15 pm
‘Those Who Impose Such Restrictions On Themselves Have A Reason’ In the African context, especially in Nigeria, the different ethnic groups convey social feelings such as greeting, affection, unity and brotherly love in diverse ways. For instance, in some tribes, a younger person dares not greet an elder with one hand; the two hands must…


‘Those Who Impose Such Restrictions On Themselves Have A Reason’

In the African context, especially in Nigeria, the different ethnic groups convey social feelings such as greeting, affection, unity and brotherly love in diverse ways. For instance, in some tribes, a younger person dares not greet an elder with one hand; the two hands must be stretched forth. But in other places, it is unacceptable to greet an elder by stretching out the hands. The younger one either kneels or prostrates himself before the elderly one. All these are traditional and acknowledged methods of greetings and as such have become second nature and are mostly done spontaneously when occasions demand it. However, this might cause a friction in the cases where some religious tenets are not favourably disposed towards the idea of an unmarried man and woman behaving in particular ways. These include a man shaking the hand of a woman that is not his wife. Such was the case, when recently President Buhari was berated by some fellow Muslim brethren for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. In their opinion, he shouldn’t have done that because Islam forbids it. This practice also upholds in some churches, where men are not allowed to shake women’s hands. What is the position of the Qur’an and Bible on handshake? Are there examples from these Holy Books?

‘The Reason Prophet Refrained From Shaking Hands With Women Is To Leave An Example For Men’
(Prof. Dawud O. S. Noibi is the Executive Secretary/CEO Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN)

ALL that Prophet Mohammed (SAW) did were examples for Muslims to follow. There were occasions when he had to relate to women. For instance, when it was necessary for them to make a pledge to follow his example, as directed by God. The Prophet (SAW) would place his hand on the men’s hands while they utter the word of pledge, but when it came to women’s turn; they placed their hands on their husbands’. The Prophet (SAW) would not place his hands directly on theirs. The simple reason is that when men come into physical contact with women, not everyone is able resist the temptation that might be brought about by such physical contact. People have different degrees of resistance and Satan has its own ways of using such contacts to arouse a man’s sexual pleasure. It could also be the same for women and that is why it is discouraged. Whether such women are Muslims or not makes no difference. This is also the reason some people make such comments with regards to the President’s action. It is necessary that one avoid such as much as possible.

However, I’m not making any judgment as to whether what President Buhari did was sinful or not. I’m only stating the basis for the kind of comments people made. It was in the practice of the Prophet (SAW) and that was what he did. And the guidance for Muslims is to do what is contained in the Qur’an and the teachings, lifestyles, sayings and actions of Prophet Mohammed (SAW). And Allah says to us in the Qur’an that we should follow his example and lifestyles. Does not shaking hand with a particular woman mean disrespect for her? Not at all. If people understand me as a Muslim and they know that I have my limitations as to how I express my respect for people, then they should understand that my restraint from shaking hands with a woman is out of respect for that woman and for the teachings of my religion. I do not think that non-Muslims should regard that as offensive. Therefore, the question as to whether the President is for the whole nation including non-Muslims does not arise at all. For, not shaking hands with a particular woman does not mean you disrespect the woman. The prophet (SAW) refrained from shaking hands with women just to lay example for men as to how they should relate with women who are not their wives, daughters, sisters or within the range of women they cannot marry. So, non-Muslims should not regard it as offensive. The rule applies to all Muslims across board and wherever they may be. But this is not saying that I have never shaken hands with a woman before, though that does not make it right under certain circumstances. However, that does not mean I should now say that it is right to do so.



‘Does Shaking A Woman’s Hand Mean Going To Hell?’
(Rev. Fr. Ralph Madu, Secretary General, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja)

IN the Catholic Church, we are asked to give a sign of peace to our neighbours, who can be a male or female. So, I’ve never experienced such except it is a religion where men don’t shake women’s hands. There are many things in the Bible, which people tend to quote when they want to put forth some unacceptable argument. Don’t forget that the Israelites went to war and God helped them to fight their enemies. Can you now say that the Bible supports war? In the Bible, Paul talked to Onesimus. Does that now mean Paul supported slavery? People fight those things to get what they want, but this is a society with all sorts of laws regarding the rights of a man and woman and all that. So, there is no way that the church would say men shouldn’t shake women’s hands. These are extreme things. Does it mean that if one shakes hands with women, he goes to hell or what? If someone is suffering from that kind of complicity, it might be better for him not to shake hands with women. To me, there is nothing in shaking women’s hands. You don’t shake a woman’s hand, but you kiss her. That is one problem with our church here in the third world and that is why we are lagging behind.

Giving a kiss of peace or sign of peace in our church is for everybody and not just the women alone. Children are also included, if they are around. We do that very well in the Catholic, greeting everybody during service. What you are talking about is typical of some groups. You know that in certain religions, women don’t shake hands with men. But in the Catholic Church or a Christian Church, I don’t see anything that will debar a man from shaking a woman’s hand. Anybody not shaking hands should tell you why he is not doing so. I don’t know the real reason behind their action, but don’t forget that every religion has its own extreme conservatives. I don’t want to call them fanatics, who preoccupy themselves with extremes. It’s just like asking me whether women should wear trousers or not or to say whether it is moral or immoral. Is that in the Bible? After all, we priests also wear gowns, which is also not in the Bible. People say so many things and at times you think you are wasting your time responding to them.

For instance, when you talk of my private parts, they are all there for specific purposes, and it depends on how a person uses them. That is when you start talking about whether they are good or bad. Even in the Christian Church, some people are so extremists that whatever others are doing they don’t do. They can’t even sit side by side with a woman in the same church, because they are facing God. But when they go to parties, they don’t mind sitting between two women.



‘To Make Success Of Your Christian Race, You Need To Have Some Self-imposed Discipline’
(Pastor Jerry Asemota, Church Secretary, Deeper Life Bible Church)

THAT is part of the instructions given in the scriptures about things we should or shouldn’t do. I would say it’s a matter of culture that people have brought into their religion. For example, people that get used to each other become familiar with each other in the society and they are more likely to get involved beyond the ordinary friendship or people just meeting for the first time. When you are close to somebody and you are doing the same thing over and over again, then over time, the thin line gets eroded and people are likely to go overboard.

In the scriptures, Paul was writing to the Gentiles, Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians. And in his writing to the Jews who were scattered abroad, he talked about greeting one another with a holy kiss and of course, when you say ‘holy kiss’ that means you are not having any evil intention within you. You are just supposed to express your love to one another in fellowship. There is no such instruction in the scriptures regarding how to discriminate between this and that person. But like I said, it has to do with the culture of the people. Don’t forget too that for you to make success of your Christian race, you need to have some self-imposed discipline, which if not done will result in people falling into sin.

The Bible talks about sobriety. If you are not sober, then you become frivolous and you behave anyhow, but don’t blame anybody if you find yourself on the other side. Often times, people who are very free within fall and you see them committing fornication and adultery because they are using their liberty to do things anyhow. I’m not saying that such don’t happen in places where such things are not done. The point is that a person who is sober and knows he is a Christian and where he is going, puts some safety measures around himself to ensure he doesn’t fall prey to such things. If you are the one propagating a religion that talks about holiness and righteousness, then you want to keep yourself pure. That is what the scripture says. Anything that will lead you out of that regime you want to keep yourself out of it.

Again, it depends on the goal of that church or assembly. There are some places where they go beyond shaking hands during their worship service. When such things are introduced, there is the possibility for people to go beyond worshipping. I would think that those who impose such restrictions on themselves have a reason, and not necessarily because they have instruction from heaven or God. You need to do whatever is required to keep yourself away from anything that will put you on the wrong side of God’s law. To be sober and have the fear of God on this Christian journey is very important. Every tribe has its own culture. For example, in Yoruba land, a woman normally kneels down to greet an elderly person, or a man. We don’t have such rules in Deeper Life after all, men and women sit together. So, shaking hands is not the issue but keeping yourself pure.



‘It Is A Tradition That Cannot Be Substantiated With God’s Word’
(Bishop Olanrewaju Obembe, Presiding Bishop, El-Shaddai Bible Church, Ikoyi, Lagos)

DOWN through the church age, you find that some church leaders had developed tradition that cannot be substantiated with God’s word. The Bible says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” which is what is important. Gal 5:6 says, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.’ What some churches practise is segregation and that is why men and women don’t sit together there. Women sit on one side and men sit on the other because they have unduly amplified the word separation to segregation. Separation is spiritual. For instance, though you are in the world, but you are separated unto the Lord.

So, they practise segregation, which cannot be substantiated with the revelation of God’s word. As a church, we don’t believe in such. In deed, you have brothers praying together and when a woman is in trouble, she will publicly agree in church with either a male or female, based on Matthew 18:19, which says, “… if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for us. ” And so, people hold hands to pray in churches, particularly in the Pentecostal ones and they get results. We don’t believe in segregation or any argument that cannot be substantiated.

I am yet to come across a scripture, where such was stated. In our church, we shake hands and those who feel it would make them impure or corrupt, should know that our sanctification is not that superficial. It goes deeper than that. Our separation unto God is not an oppressive gender separation whereby the gender differences are seen as the basis for separation. The Bible says in Psalm 126, “Where the brethren dwell together in unity, there the Lord commanded His blessings.” In the Old Testament, no one was expected to touch a leper and any one that did so then was regarded as unclean. But in the New Covenant, Jesus touched a leper, who was cured. In the same vein, holding hands in church or shaking hands is a sign of brotherly love.

Pastor Johnson Odesola


‘We Shake Hands With Women, But We Don’t Embrace Somebody That Is Not Your Wife’
(Pastor Johnson Funso Odesola, Member, Governing Council, The Redeemed Christian Church of God/Special Assistant to the General Overseer, Admin. /Personnel)

WE shake hands with women, but we don’t embrace somebody that is not your wife. Women are human beings, too. The Bible didn’t say we should not shake hands. In fact, there is no place in the Bible where one can find that one should not shake hands, which is a sign of fellowship and acceptance; so I don’t know where they got that from. Shaking of hands does not corrupt a man or bring impurity to him. These women are our wives and they are not impure, they are holy and pure just like men.

So to me, the idea of not shaking hands portrays a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. The women are not less than men and are accepted into Christ’s fold. Women bear our children and we sleep with them. Do we now say that they are unholy?

Even in the days of Moses, when women were having their monthly cycle, only the law of hygiene was being applied, when they were given the law in the Old Testament. God didn’t create women to be less than men. After creating man, He said in Gen 2:18, ‘it is not good that a man should live alone, I will make a helpmeet for him. The Bible also says in the book of Proverbs that ‘the good woman is a crown on the head of her husband.’ Shaking hands with a woman does not contaminate you; it does not connote anything except you have an ulterior motive. People that don’t shake hands but have the spirit of lust are immoral, when they have such in their thoughts.




‘I See Nothing Bad In Shaking Hands With A Woman’
(His Grace, Most Revd. (Dr.) Solomon Gbadebo Abimbola, Primate, The First African Church Mission Incorporated, Worldwide)

I DON’T see anything bad in that. From the onset, those who brought Christianity to Nigeria and the way of exchanging greeting are the British, who are into hand shaking. Since inception, that is the way we have been greeting ourselves in the church. I see nothing bad in exchanging greeting, when you shake a woman as a man.

Every church has its own doctrine and when they introduce such they usually look for a Bible passage to back what they are doing. But when you count the number of churches in Nigeria, l can tell you that 99 per cent of Christian churches are exchanging greetings through hand shake. I don’t know where they derive their own doctrine from, which says that when you shake hands with a woman it makes you impure. I don’t believe that.





Imam Bello

Imam Bello

‘Islam Forbids Handshake With Women’ (Imam Abdur Rahman Bello, Lagos)
SHAKING hands when meeting and saying Salaam is part of Islam etiquettes and it’s good morals. It is an expression of love between the two shaking hands, as it dispels hatred, rancour and grudges among Muslims. The Prophet (SAW) says: “There is no two Muslims who meet and shake hands with each other but they will be forgiven before they depart” (Abu Dawood).

Above notwithstanding, shaking hands with members of the opposite gender, who is not a relation, is not permissible according to Islam teachings. It is not allowed for a believing man to put his hands in the hands of a woman who is not related to him (such as his mother, sister, daughter, etc.) Whoever does this has sinned. Ma’qil ibn Yasar reported the Prophet (SAW) as saying: “It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch a woman who is not permissible (i.e. related) to you.”

Even in performing the traditional Ba’yah (Pledge of Allegiance), the Prophet (SAW) took only oral oath from women and avoided touching their hands, despite the fact that the pledge was originally given by hand. See Qur’an 60:12. All the four Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi’i and Hanbali) agreed in their respective schools of thought that Islam does not permit a Muslim to shake hands with people of opposite gender who are not related to him or her.

Shaking hands or physical contact with a person of the opposite gender is a strict prohibition in Islam with the exception of the spouse; ancestors including father, mother and grand parents from both sides; descendants including their children and grand children; siblings including brothers and sisters, half brothers and half sisters; children of the person’s siblings and descendants i.e. nephews and nieces by blood; ancestors of the spouses including their parents and grand parents; descendants of the spouses including their children and grand children and ties of breastfeeding.

Handshaking with anyone from the opposite sex not mentioned above is not permissible in Islam. Therefore, a man would shake his sister’s aunt’s niece’s hands and so on, but he would not shake the hand of his uncle’s wife, or that of a female acquaintance, classmate or colleague.

The refusal of Muslim men and women to shake hands with members of the opposite gender is a contentious issue for many people because it contradicts the social norms that are prevalent in the Western society today. Some people take this refusal as personal insult and embarrassing to both parties. To better understand why this happens, we need to know that Muslims do not discriminate, in this matter between shaking the hands of other Muslims and that of non- Muslims. This is not something that is exclusive to Muslim men though, as Muslim women are just as likely to refuse shaking hands with men. It is not the actual act of shaking hands that Muslims have issue with, the refusal relates to any physical contact with a person of the opposite gender who is not a relation.

Shaking hands is also the Islamic norm of greeting non-Muslims of the same gender. Islam teaches that physical touching of the opposite gender in whatever form is prohibited as a sign of modesty, humility and chastity. It is also a form of respect towards the other person by acknowledging no one has the right to touch them except for their nearest and dearest.

In conclusion, every Muslim is responsible for his or her own actions, and is free to choose the degree to which he implements the various tenets of Islam. Hence, you may have Muslims who derive pleasure in shaking hands with members of opposite gender, contrary to Islam teaching.



‘Those Practising Non-shaking Of Hands Should Not Make It A Doctrine’
(Pastor (Dr.) Oyeleke Owolabi, President of Seventh Day Adventist Church in Nigeria/Pro-chancellor, Babcock University/Chairman of Governing Council)

PEOPLE practising non-shaking hands with women are not following biblical examples; rather, they are following mere tradition. There is a difference between a tradition and biblical teachings, which are the practices and convictions that occurred in the Bible. There is no biblical instruction on hand shaking between the genders.

It is only a form of greeting, when a woman shakes hand with a man and there is no problem in it. But they should not make it a biblical doctrine, though it becomes understandable in the particular occasion, where shaking hands with the opposite sex is offensive to the culture and the sociological setting of a church.

For example, if you go to where they practise the Sharia law, and it is practically forbidden for a man to shake hands with women in public, one can show understanding in order not to offend anybody in the process of worshipping God. But when it is not offensive to the culture and society and there is no biblical injunction that actually supports it, then one wonders. So, those churches practising it should be asked on what premises they are basing their action? Is it a cultural, sociological, tradition or biblical injunction? But from Genesis to Revelation, there is no single example of such.

I can shake hands with any woman and any woman can shake hands with any man; there is no big deal in it. In Islam, it is not forbidden for a man to shake hands with women. What is forbidden is when a man shakes the hand of a woman with ulterior motive. Shaking hands is simply a form of greeting. For instance, the Bible says ‘thou shalt not bow down to any graven image.’ But I’m a Yoruba man and I prostrate myself to greet my father or grandfather. This does not, however, mean I’m worshipping him. It is only a form of greeting that is acceptable to the socio-cultural setting of where my religion is practised and located.

So, it is not out of order for President Buhari to shake hands with a woman, though I wouldn’t encourage him to shake hands with a Saudi Arabian woman because there, the sociocultural order does not encourage it. And by doing so, he would be provoking unnecessary violence. But if Buhari goes to America, he can shake hands with women because they are not offended by it there. It is not a Qur’anic injunction, but rather a cultural one. It is not written anywhere in the Qur’an that ‘thou shalt not shake hands with the opposite sex.’ I read Islamic Studies, so I know what I’m talking about.

For instance, if an Igbo man wants to greet his father in-law, he shakes hand with him, and says, ‘dede, mazi,’ but as a Yoruba man I can never do that. I have to bow down because that is what obtains in my culture. But they should not make it a religious rule. It is not written in the Bible or Qur’an or anywhere else. We cannot judge because we cannot see the human heart; only God can judge and not a pastor like me.