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“Normalise Not Giving Physical Salaam”: An Issue On Consent, Culture and Respect?

Over the festive Hari Raya weekend, an Instagram post by a Singaporean content creator (beingbravelywoman) has gone viral, titled...

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Over the festive Hari Raya weekend, an Instagram post by a Singaporean content creator (beingbravelywoman) has gone viral, titled ‘Normalise Not Giving Physical Salaam (The kissing of hands)’. 

In a concise numbered list, the post highlights how the physical act of shaking and kissing hands is a cultural practice rather than a religious one. It claims that it is not haram and there is no sin if you do not choose to ‘salaam’ someone. 

The creator then addresses the discomfort she/he has experienced from “being forced to kiss the hands of strange men”. This extends to how the hands may have reeked of cigarettes and how rejecting/refusing the ‘salaam’ may be regarded as rude. She/he claims that the act of ‘salaam’ may even give the men ‘ “permission” to touch you on your shoulders’ or have you dealing with ‘sleazy pakciks’. 

It is later on in the post that it explicitly mentions the issue of safe touch and consent. 

The post sums up with the overarching view on parenting where parents have the ultimate say in the upbringing of their child. The post assures parents that our children can grow to choose whom they respect to ‘salaam’ at the end of the day. 

IS THIS ABOUT… CONSENT?

First and foremost, consent is an important issue that has to be addressed in any and every community. While consent was initially a concept used when discussing sexual relations, it has now extended to any form of physical contact. 

No one should be forced to touch, or be obliged to being touched, by any individual whom they may or may not know. Encroaching on one’s personal boundaries, physical or otherwise, is not right. 

This is evident with netizens who came forth supporting the creator’s views.

IS THIS ABOUT… CULTURE?

But not everyone is completely agreeable to the entirety of the post. Having it framed as a narrative where our Malay community could possibly no longer condone the act of ‘salaam’ appears to be far-fetched for some. 

In general, the ‘salaam’ is regarded as a culturally unifying act of silaturrahim. The original post perhaps has to be taken with a grain of salt, having it coupled by the creator’s  personal traumatic experiences.

Some netizens have also pointed out that you can politely reject the shaking of one’s hand by placing your own hand over your chest as a respectful manner of greeting. After all, shaking the hands of someone you meet is also an act done outside of Malay culture (e.g. in western countries, in work settings etc).

IS THIS ABOUT… RELIGION?

As the original post makes references to the religion of Islam, some fact checking is required and it was refreshing to see our local asatizah and netizens shed some light on this matter too.

When it comes to religion, it is also key to scope out the matter of who is a mahram to you (i.e. who you can make physical contact with, without you needing to retake your ablution) but that’s another matter entirely. 

IS THIS ABOUT… RESPECT?

As a community, we have to respect the difference in opinions and take accountability for the views we share. It should not invalidate the experiences of others.

With this being the first Hari Raya celebration where we are out and about after 2 years dealing with the pandemic, the joyous season will see many of us shaking the hands of others as we greet each other and seek forgiveness. Over decades, it is meant to unite, not divide.

Unfortunately, it has come to light that not everyone has had pleasant experiences with the act of ‘salaam’ and we are sorry for anyone who has felt violated or disrespected one way or another. 

Perhaps it is not a call to cancel the act of ‘salaam’ but an important learning lesson on educating our community on the culture, respect and importance of silaturrahim that we truly uphold. We invite you to have conversations about this culture of ‘salaam’ with your family, friends and children. Who knows what new insights you may gather? Perhaps then, all in our community may land on the same page.

This article is written by our writer. Feel free to share.

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