Firstly, it is not clear that this is, per se, an expression of misogyny, as many are claiming. The specific hadith supposedly says:
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘If one of you were to be struck in the head with an iron needle, it would be better for him than if he were to touch a woman he is not allowed to’.
That reference goes on to say:
There is no doubt that for a man to touch a non-mahram woman is one of the causes of fitnah (turmoil, temptation), provocation of desire and committing haraam deeds.
So it is clear this is not about women being unclean but, rather, about the inability of Muslim men to control their baser urges. Surely, Muslim men (sensible ones, at any rate) should feel outraged at this slight. Sadly, this brings to mind the remarks of Sheik Hilaly, then Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric, who in 2006 infamously likened uncovered women to cat meat. “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?” he asked his lakemba congregation.
“If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab,” he continued, “no problem would have occurred.”
Secondly, if we look at the strict wording of the relevant hadith, might it not be argued that ‘touch’ in this context means rather more than a casual physical contact, such as shaking hands, but ‘touching’ in a sexual context?
My point is that this is just one more example of Islam’s inability to adapt to changing times and the mores of societies other than those of the Arabian Peninsula in seventh century. I wonder how vigorously this particular hadith is observed in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia? How does it work in the case of paramedics, nurses, doctors, firemen? Are exceptions made in such cases and, if so, why not in this country to accommodate the host society’s cultural practices?
My curious tickled, I came across this advice detailing Islamic doctrine in regard to the medical treatment of Muslim women, who must first seek medical counsel and treatment from a female Muslim doctor. Should such not be available, a non-Muslim female medico is the second preference, followed by a Muslim male and, last of all, a non-Muslim man.
As to shaking hands with women, this source of Islamic guidance explains that Allah is against it
Some Muslims feel too embarrassed to refuse when a woman offers her hand to them. In addition to mixing with women, some of them claim that they are forced to shake hands with fellow-students and teachers in schools and universities, or with colleagues in the workplace, or in business meetings and so on, but this is not an acceptable excuse.
The Muslim should overcome his own feelings and the promptings of the Shaytaan, and be strong in his faith, because Allah is not ashamed of the truth. The Muslim could apologize politely and explain that the reason he does not want to shake hands is not to offend or hurt anybody’s feelings, but it is because he is following the teachings of his religion. In most cases this will earn him respect from others. There is no harm done if they find it strange at first, and it may even be a practical opportunity for da’wah. And Allaah knows best.
That may sound like a reasonable position. After all, what harm is done if a Muslim boy chooses to put his hand on his heart rather than shake a woman’s hand?
Many would argue that respect for this particular religious practice is vastly outweighed by the need for Muslims to adapt and accept the mores of the societies in which they wish to live — the equality of women being not merely one of them but a key element.
In this regard a little backbone on the part of educators might go a long way toward promoting such integration. Of course, before they do that, the initial step would be to recognise that equality is a rather more valuable concept than the exaltation of identity politics.
Yes, they might do that. But I won’t be holding my breath.