x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Ask Ali: On visiting graves and the shaking of hands

Ali Al Saloom offers advice for women visiting raves and on men and women shaking hands.

Dear Ali: My 7-year-old son recently passed away after battling cancer and it has devastated me and my family. I have accepted this fate from God, but from time to time I want to visit my son's grave. Why are women not allowed to visit graves? I think it would help me to heal and get a sense of moving on, even though, of course, I can never forget my son. DW, Dubai

Dear DW: I am sorry for the loss of your beloved son. Inna lillah wa inna ilaihi raji'oon (To God we belong and to Him we will return). His sickness must have been hard for you to deal with, and I can sympathise with your ordeal as I went through a similar experience when my father (may his soul rest in peace) died a couple of years ago.

I understand why you want to visit your son's grave. While Islamic scholars debate this issue, the general conclusion is that women are permitted to visit graves but only under certain conditions.

One, they have to be suitably covered. Two, they need to conduct themselves appropriately by avoiding loud wailing and crying. They should not disturb anyone else or attract attention, and should respect the sanctity of the place.

Also, it is advisable that a woman who visits a grave goes with a mohrem, a male member of the family, and not alone as it is safer.

Keeping in mind these conditions, it would be totally acceptable for you to visit your son's grave. In fact, it would be recommended because it reminds us of where we all end up one day and that we should do good in life.

I hope Allah gives you the patience to move forward, and that your son's death will, inshallah, be your reason to go to heaven. My condolences to your family.


Dear Ali: I am aware that Arab men don't shake hands with women, but I once saw a picture of one of the higher-position sheikhs shaking the hand of a woman who seemed to be older than him and was in a wheelchair. Such pictures confuse me, as I don't know what is right or wrong. Please explain. GZ, Ajman

Dear GZ: Your confusion is understandable, given the debate on whether a man shaking hands with a women is acceptable in Islam. While there is no law against this practice, it is not culturally accepted and that's why you don't see it often.

The case you cite is interesting, and here's what I think the scenario may have been: Since the woman in the wheelchair was elderly, there is nothing suggestive about her shaking hands with a man of high status. That's not to say our sheikhs initiate handshakes with women. She probably extended her hand first, honoured to shake hands with a sheikh who probably has contributed so much towards our country or to his emirate. Then, out of politeness, humility and respect for her, the sheikh complied.

So there really are no strict guidelines to a man shaking hands with a woman; it's a case-by-case thing. Everything depends on the context and situation.

That said, however, I would advise all men not to initiate shaking hands with a woman. If she offers her hand first, then, yes, accept it - but I would offer the same advice to women. Then the man or woman should judge the situation and respond appropriately.

It seems, by the way, that most non-Muslim, expat women are open to shaking a man's hand.


Language lesson

Arabic: Imtihan

English: Exam or test

Exams challenge our lives. If you're going through a rough time and someone tells you "Hada imtihan men Allah" in Arabic, he means: "This is a test from God," so you're meant to be patient and accept God's fate.