Greetings can involve physical contact, body language and other social cues. Meeting someone from your own culture is second nature. If you are an American, this involves eye contact, a smile, and an extended hand that expects a handshake to be returned. Alternatively, there is defined etiquette involved with greetings between a Muslim and someone of a different faith, gender or both. Whether you are meeting a business colleague, a stranger, a close friend or new relative, knowing the rules about greeting a Muslim ensures everyone feels comfortable.
How to Greet a Muslim
Do not touch a Muslim woman when you greet her. Islamic culture rules forbid men who are not part of the family from touching a woman. Touch is also not welcome between non-Muslim women and Muslim men except when the male initiates a handshake. Place your hands to your sides and keep your eye contact brief when saying hello to a Muslim of the opposite sex.
Speak the traditional greeting to a fellow Muslim of either sex. “Salaam al-leikum” or "Peace be upon you" is common. Return the greeting with “Waa al’leikum salaam,” "And may peace also be upon you, also." Offer a handshake if you are both Muslims of the same gender.
Extend greetings to opposite-gender Muslims if the person is someone you are married to or is related to you or your spouse. Ask if opposite-sex touching is welcome to reinforce etiquette. Proceed with extended eye contact and brief touch if you have been approved to do so. Avoid extensive touching after the initial greeting.
Extend a greeting with eye contact for Muslims you meeting in a business environment outside of predominant Muslim cultures. Prepare for a handshake and eye contact if you are a non-Muslim woman meeting a Muslim man, but let him initiate it. Proceed with subsequent touching and less observance of personal space if you are of the same sex.
It is not unusual for a Muslim man to grab your elbow and hold your handshake for up to a minute or longer.
Hugging instead of handshaking can be expected from Muslim men and women that were born outside of America. Muslim men from non-American cultures often hold hands and avoid personal space boundaries after greetings.
Extended eye contact with members of the opposite sex is considered outrageous behavior in conservative Muslim interactions.
When in doubt, do not assume that the person is a close enough relative or family member to touch. For instance, a man married into a Muslim family may need to err on the side of caution with touching during a greeting when his wife’s female kin are in his presence.
Avoid hugging or placing a hand on a Muslim's arms during a business interaction with a Muslim of the opposite sex. If a handshake is initiated by a male Muslim to a female he is doing business with, withdrawal from the handshake as quickly as possible.