Shaking hands is a centuries-old custom that conveys greetings and respect. For this reason, refusing an extended hand will likely be interpreted as an insult. Such was the case when a Muslim asylum seeker set to receive an award for volunteer work in Ireland informed the committee that he would not shake hands with the woman presenting it. As a result, they gave the certificate to someone else:
Alinoor Ahmed Sheikh, a Somali based in an asylum hostel in Tralee, was to have been honored for his work raising funds for Amnesty International at a ceremony last Thursday organized by the Africa Centre in Dublin. The event was designed to highlight the positive work done by refugees and asylum seekers in Irish communities.
Five minutes before Benedicta Attoh, a member of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, was due to present the award she was told not to call out Sheikh's name. "The judges had decided that someone else should get the award," said Attoh, chairwoman of the Africa Centre's board.
Attoh did not find out the reason why until she read in Metro Eireann on Friday that his name had been removed because of his refusal to shake hands with women. Sheikh told the newspaper that he had been assured his request not to shake a female presenter's hand would be accommodated because it was based on his religious beliefs.
Another Africa Centre official argued that the group had no problem with Sheikh's request and that the very public debacle was simply a "mistake." However, the incident left Attoh in a less-than-understanding mood. "I don't think I would have presented his prize if he wouldn't shake my hand because I'm a woman," the chairwoman countered.
The Irish case is merely the latest handshake controversy. Last year, a female Muslim officer was exempted from shaking hands with the London police chief at a graduation ceremony. In 2006, an employment commission in the Netherlands ruled that a Muslim woman could not be barred from a teacher-training program because she refused to shake hands with men. Most ironic of all, that same year the Dutch immigration minister was snubbed as she presented diplomas to imams completing an "assimilation course."
Inter-gender handshakes are also restricted by some other religious groups, so why should the above stories be of concern? Because only among lawful Islamists is there a prominent push to institutionalize aspects of Shari'a-grounded gender segregation in the public square. Any accommodation must be viewed in this broader context.
With Shari'a on the march, Western society cannot afford to sit on its hands.