As promised in the post about the med school interview, I’m going to share my story about how to deal with the issue of handshakes with the opposite gender.

During my interview, I was asked to wait in the lobby for a senior faculty member to call me for a one-on-one interview. As I sat on one of the couches, my nervousness throughout the day had diminished somewhat but another anxious thought persisted. What if my interviewer is not a woman, and expects to shake hands with me? I had previously experienced this situation in college, at shopping centers, and at other public places, but this was a medical school interview. Not only, that, but it was my dream school interview, the one I had pinned my hopes upon. If I refused to shake the interviewer’s hand, could that ruin my chances of being accepted? In all honesty, it could, but while I sat with such tumultuous thoughts I recalled the hadith, “Whoever gives up something for the sake of Allah, Allah will substitute him with something better”. At that moment, my mind was made up. No matter what the outcome was, I would not shake hands but would offer a polite explanation of why I could not.

A few minutes after I came to my decision, a gentleman came and introduced himself as Dr. So and So, the head of a department at the school, and as my interviewer, then extended his hand toward me. I greeted him, but kept my hands to my side as I informed him politely that I did not shake hands with men due to my religion. Apparently, he had never experienced this before, because he stared at me with his mouth gaping and after a minute he replied, “Well, I don’t normally touch women. Follow me to my office”. As I followed him, I mentally crossed out this school from my list and began to make plans to apply to graduate school as there was absolutely no way after that response that I was going to be accepted. However, I was strangely content, as I knew that I did not do something to please someone but which would displease Allah SWT, and that He has better plans for me.

As we reached his office, he pointed to a chair at his desk and asked me to sit. After easing himself into a seat behind his desk, he held a folder in his hand, slapped it on the table, and said to me, “You’re a smart girl. I despise open folder interviews, so let’s just talk about you besides what’s on the paper”. The interview proceeded as if the handshake issue had never occurred, and went more smoothly then I would have ever imagined. After a few jokes and a discussion about a movie, he walked me towards the door, opened it, and said, “I’m not supposed to mention anything, but I look forward to seeing you in the fall”. With a wink, he added, “I’m going to remember you, so when you’re in my class in 2nd year, I want to have a nice and long discussion with you about why Muslim women can’t shake hands with men”. Two weeks later, I received a phone call from the dean congratulating me on my acceptance.

It’s really tough to give up something that you really want, but you must put your faith in Allah SWT that he will pick the best for you. Maybe if I had chosen to shake his hand, I would not have been accepted. It’s at times like this that Allah SWT really tests you and you have to do your best to overcome anything that is holding you back. I know that this was only a minor step, I’m probably going to experience this same issue again but on larger scale in residency interviews in two years inshaAllah, but I’m ready with my response. By the way, the professor who interviewed me? His class is going to start in about a month inshaAllah, and you bet that I’m going to walk up to him the first day and remind him of his deal. 🙂