To hug or not to hug

This past Saturday I was in my improv class and the assignment was to play “hug tag”. Basically you have to be hugging one other person or you can get tagged and become “it”.

I was a little speechless because it was unexpected. Part of improv is just “going with the flow” and accepting whatever is thrown at you without flinching. The other part is to work together as an ensemble or group and not interrupt things because you’ll ruin the experience for your group and the audience.

So I just volunteered right away to be “it”.

The game was a little awkward and people were not really hugging but kind of putting their arm around the other person’s shoulder.

At the end of class I went up to the instructor and told her that I was caught off guard and didn’t want to interrupt class, but if she could let me know ahead of time if there were any other exercises involving the need to touch the opposite gender.

I realized as I was speaking to her, that I had no way to explain it without sounding like a weirdo. I basically told her that because of my religious beliefs I really shouldn’t be touching guys or have them touching me. I tried to elaborate and all that came out was, “You know, like in what would be considered romantic situations”. Man I sounded like a dork!

She was nice about it and told me there was nothing else like that particular assignment and she was glad I said something.

I definitely felt better.

I’m sure some of you may think that if I want to be in the entertainment industry this is just some of the stuff I have to face. But like the director from Mooz-lum said in his interview, if you give people boundaries they respect you.

I know there are plenty of Muslim gals and guys who hug others because it’s just another way of saying hi.

But I personally feel uncomfortable. Not just because of religious beliefs, but because I know I wouldn’t like it if my husband was hugging random girls.

Then again, I do let hugs slip by for one reason or another. So I’m really confused. I’ve had hugs from professors, work colleagues, even neighbors- we used to live next to an older gentleman and his wife and they would always hug my husband and I if they didn’t see us in a long time.

My problem now is that I keep going back to what I told my instructor and wondering how I should have/could have explained the situation to her. Do any of you have a better way to say things? Or do you think hugging is not a big deal?

This article has 14 comments

  1. Qathi

    Hoo golly, I’m late to this party!

    I live in the Northwest where hugging is a more common greeting than a handshake, even with people you’ve just been introduced to. It’s awkward! I’m not a hugger, but I will offer a “psychic hug” LOL. A gesture of, ‘I’m not going to touch you, but I appreciate your greeting. No hard feelings eh.’ People who’ve known me for a very long time respect my space and my boundaries and will even help to ward off incoming huggers who don’t know me as well 😉 I’m a bit of a goof; sometimes with closer friends I’ll toss up my hands and proclaim, “Air hug!” while pantomiming a hugging action.

    Improve has structure and takes practice right? It’s about learning how to volley a mostly unknown situation with immediacy and grace. Perhaps the next time an errant hug comes your way on stage, you try to muster your personal space in character sending the volley back at your teammates in such a way that adds to the flow of the piece.

    I understand, I really do. The other day I was asked by my very young performance-mates to burst our of a box. I let them know as gracefully as I could that I’d been around the sun too many times to bursting out of anything, especially a box! We worked out another solution.

  2. eloquence

    this reminded me of a friend i had, who without asking just went in for a hug and threw me offgaurd, when i drew back and told him ahh no hugs, he stopped talking to me!!! lol, at the end though it really doesn’t matter, it feels good when you stand up for what you believe in and you figure out who respects your right to those beliefs in the process, the others aren’t worth it.

  3. Maria

    This is a tough issue to deal with, and I commend you for opening up about it–bless you!

    The first problem I had was my mom seeing me hug my male friends when I moved into my dorm my junior year of college. I hadn’t seen them all summer, and I felt comfortable enough returning the hug because it was not a tight hug. She disapproved. I was a little frustrated with her, but I didn’t hug them because I really wanted to–I did it because they went for it and I didn’t know what to say.

    The second problem was my boss. He’s a much older man, but I didn’t think that meant it was okay for him to hug me. He sensed I was uncomfortable, and we had a discussion about it, and I said I’d like to stick to handshakes. I was really just grossed out about his hug and didn’t feel that just because he is old enough to be grandfather made it okay to hug me; he is not family.

    Now I’d really prefer not to have to hug guys. Ladies, speak up! These men should assume hugs are not okay and let the ladies initiate hugs if they want to!!!!

    I’m so happy you have this forum so we can discuss these topics, without anyone really judging each other, just offering suggestions for how to handle it. Ultimately religion is a private thing here, and it helps to have the support for how to behave in these situations.

  4. Anum

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    First off I’d like to say good job at going with your gut instinct and not participating in this hug scenario. You really shouldnt have any reason to feel ashamed, embarassed or awkward just because our religion stands out or is different from the norm. I know many women, including my mother, who don’t even shake hands with the opposite sex. Hugging definitely crosses the boundaries. I mean really at the end of the day, we do it because Allah commanded us to do it and He being our creator knows best. I hate when people are lenient or sacrifice their religious practices for the sake of fitting in or because they are shy of their faiths. I mean America is based upon the right to freedom of faith so why should we be shy to express our faiths? If people aren’t shy to get tattoos or wear bikinis why should we be afraid to have dignity and to be obey our lord? People in the world really are understanding and genuinely respectful if you support your actions with a valid reasoning. In this instance, this is the perfect opportunity for great dawah. By explaining to them why you cannot hug, you are teaching a non-muslim something theyve probably never considered or thought of before in their lives, and we should be proud of that.

  5. Natalie

    Hi Mariam,
    I guess I am late on adding my few thoughts on this, but I have to say that you handled it pretty well. I myself do not like hugging. I remember coming to the U.S. and going to high school and see all the hugging. Like for instance, if they saw each other, they would hug each other and another example, if maybe they get a bad grade, they would hug each other. I was like seriously. I couldn’t believe my eyes with all the hugging that goes around. Anyway, me personally I don’t like hugging. The only people that I hug is my mom, sister and daughter. I always felt awkward hugging my dad and brother for some reason–I guess because we are not that close but any who, now that I converted to Islam, my college adviser ask me if she could hug me. I guess it would be appropriate to ask the question first if you want to be hugged or not.

  6. Mariam Sobh

    Thank you everyone for your comments and personal stories. It’s always refreshing to hear how people deal with these issues in the “real world”. It’s easy to just say to go by the rules but life isn’t black and white. There are plenty of gray areas.

    That being said, I also spoke with a few classmates afterward about our class, and someone mentioned that the hug tag was “awkward” so I told them that it was awkward for me too especially due to my religious beliefs. It was interesting to see that several non-Muslims were uncomfortable having other people in their personal space.

    Thanks again for all the comments and support you guys are the best!

  7. Azeezah

    I respect the decision u took not to hug. What is wrong with we muslims? When will we learn to put our foot down and tell the world this is what my religion dictate and I can’t compromise it? I am a Lawyer and will soon be called to bar inshallah, we will all shake members of the Benchers both male and female: I told myself ok if I have to do it for my career once then I will but u can be rest assured that after that I will never do any such thing for my career again else I need to such for another career.
    I can’t remember the last time I shook a man I am not related to, all it take is a smile and a polite tone saying ” I don’t shake” Some people will ask you why, give them answers with a smile and believe me they will come to respect and appreciate you.

  8. caraboska

    Bismillah. If I were in your shoes, I probably would have simply taken the teacher aside and apologized for not having foreseen already at the beginning of the course that this discussion would need to take place, and then explained that my religion prohibits physical contact between members of the opposite sex who are not close family members. I would probably not have felt the need to explain why unless the person asked. At which point I would say that Islam puts a premium on conducting one’s personal life in a morally upright manner, and the rules are very strict so as not to give even the opportunity to do otherwise.

  9. LK

    I think you explained it well. There are a lot of things in the entertainment industry that you need to speak up about. I had to speak up about not being willing to wear just my underwear onstage. I was terrified they’d take the part away from me but the director was understanding. Most people will assume as an actor you have no limits so you need to make yourself heard.

    Good luck with your class!

  10. Valerie

    I’m just not a hugger to begin with and neither is my family… I go to a gym for women and even though I see them every day, I wouldn’t hug any of them. I’d probably say that I just don’t feel comfortable with it, because I only hug close friends or that I’m not comfortable with hugging strangers. I don’t know. That’s a difficult situation. Because it was just thrown at you, I think you handled it better than I would have. My hugs would have been reaching over and patting someone on the back (hehe).

  11. Tracy

    Salam alaikum sister
    My husband and I go through the same troubles. My family is cuban and not muslim oriented/don’t know any of our guidelines. The way they greet is kissing each other on the cheek and we used to allow it but now that we are trying more now than we ever did before to live a more pious life, we pretty much just avoid it. Some of them know but we avoid family parties and functions because of the mixing, alcohol, things like that. I am sure they just see it as us being extreme and even my abuela says she can’t wait until I go back to “normal” (the way I used to be). They just don’t understand and at times I don’t understand how they can’t comprehend how the Quran is a great manual of the way you should live your life. My husband reminds me that those who won’t submit and allow God to guide them have been closed off from his guidance until they change their ways or unfortunately they just continue their downward spiral. It’s scary when it comes to family being misguided but anyway, I will stop here because I’m going off topic.
    Most of the times when it comes to telling someone you can’t do something due to your religion or just moral beliefs it’s just best to remember that it doesn’t matter what others thinks, it only matters what Allah subhana wa ta’ala thinks. And alhamdudilah you said something, props to you!

  12. Deniz

    Personally i avoid any sort of physical contact with the opposite gender as much as possible, including the shaking of hands and hugging. Now, i was born Muslim but have only been practising since i was 19 and now that i wear hijab the family friends, both male and female, that we had (generally my parents age) are beginning to understand that i dont do physical contact. But at first it wasnt that easy, it was definitely awkward! My most used and best method at avoiding was holding my baby so i had no ‘free hands’, but now i sort of just stand at a good distance (2 metres?) and nod my head to greet with a smile. it is still awkward sometimes, and im sure it will continue to be living in Australia but i know that its definitely worth it 🙂 good on you for speaking up!

  13. Kelly

    Oh, and yeah I’d say this is a totally different catergory than hugging senior citizens lol.

  14. Kelly

    That’s a tough one, because people just don’t understand. But I totally would (even if I weren’t Muslim) because of some old classmates.

    Basically there was this one guy who admitted to everyone he liked hugging girls (pretty much any girl) in order to get her chest squeezed against him.


    I would say that you handled the situation well though.

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