As a Muslim I am only allowed to bow and prostrate to God, not to other people. This is a problem in Japan, where bowing is considered a common greeting.

How should I handle greetings at work and with clients when unable to bow, without coming off as disrespectful?

Edit: A lot of people seem to be debating whether this is an act of worship (or not), and does your religion maybe tolerate this? Well... I thought that would be clear from what I said:

Muslims are only allowed to bow and prostrate to God because we consider such things acts of worship, and Islam is a very monotheistic religion

This should seem obvious as I am trying my best to mend ways, and come up with the best solution possible. Please do focus on the question itself, thank you very much :).

This question has an open bounty worth +50 reputation from Salmaan Al-Faaris ending tomorrow.

The current answers do not contain enough detail.

Please focus on the answer :D, Do not start debating whether it is cultural or religion, it is religion and islam is not a culture divided by color whatsoever etc. , however islam has some guidelines, which i am more than happy to follow as i find this to be the right guidance, for me, please do note that it would be a plus to add some workplace examples such as when walking in the hall, coming into office or teamwork room thank you. :) 😊

  • 3
    How would you politely greet someone at home? – Patricia Shanahan Oct 7 at 17:51
  • 4
    Not exactly a duplicate but very closely related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/46611/… – AffableAmbler Oct 7 at 18:27
  • 3
    Are you allowed to make any downward gesture (like a nod), or do you need something that's completely different? (Also, since you're asking on The Workplace, can you confirm that this is a common practice in workplace settings?) – Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 21:54
  • 3
    @MonicaCellio it is common in many places in japan even at work – Salmaan Al-Faaris Oct 8 at 5:28
  • 20
    OP have you considered asking at a mosque for advice? – bharal Oct 8 at 9:53

I am also a muslim. But your concepts are wrong. You can bow and greet them. You are allowed to bow, this is the culture of Japanese.

According to Islam, if you are bowing in front of someone because he is powerful or he called himself equivalent to God. Then this is not allowed. But here the case is different you have to follow their culture.

I think bow in front of someone is great way to greet him. So do it. Nothing is wrong in it until the condition I tell you above.

  • 12
    I think you are highlighting an important thing: the plausible false preconception that OP had, which is that bowing to someone is an act of worship towards this person. I indeed think that if one can agree that bowing not necessarily means worshiping (to me, it is clearly the case in the Japanese culture), the problem would be solved. Yet I am no theologian (nor Muslim), so you may want to take my word with caution. – ebosi Oct 8 at 10:20
  • 4
    You are right. Bowing in front of someone doesn't mean you worship it's just a way to give respect. – Muhammad Wajahat Anwar Oct 8 at 10:32
  • 9
    Without beeing muslim, I would think that this could strongly depend on the way the Quran is read/translated/interpreted. So while you might think it is perfectly fine it MIGHT be a big offense elsewhere. But I am just guessing here. – Kami Kaze Oct 8 at 12:51
  • 9
    This does not seem to be universally agreed upon, see, for example islamqa.info/en/229780 for a differing opinion – Jack Aidley Oct 8 at 13:05
  • @KamiKaze thank you. :) – Salmaan Al-Faaris Oct 8 at 17:42

How should I handle greetings when unable to bow, without seeming disrespectful?

You don't, you either bow or you disrespect their practice. The reasons don't apply.

In much the same way as declining a handshake for any reason beyond you missing a hand is disrespectful, or refusing a Maori hongi at a marae is disrespectful (don't do this last one, it's a direct challenge to someones mana).

However many nationalities are used to disrespect from foreigners and give them leeway, so it's not something you need to worry unduly about in most cases especially in a workplace. Unsure on Japanese, they were very respect conscious when I had dealings with them, but with many nationalities, it's fine to be a foreigner with colleagues in these matter, but it can work against you with superiors although they may never stop smiling.

For example, in my own country any perceived disrespect to superiors could lose you a contract even if you were by far the best candidate or price. Yet I didn't grow up here and my interpretation of my religious prohibitions have some fundamental differences to those here even within my own denomination, in which case I disregard their norms for what I believe. I pay the price of being perceived as disrespectful by many which I understand because I am consciously disrespecting them. This has in pragmatic terms lost me many opportunities and is one of the reasons I started my own business rather than continued working for others here.

It's outside the scope of the question, but I would advise asking your co-religionists or leaders that have already encountered this issue how to handle it in a religious context.

  • 23
    +1 You can't have your cake and eat it. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to respect your own customs over those of the people you are dealing with you just need to be prepared to accept that there might be some negative consequences to doing so. – motosubatsu Oct 8 at 8:51
  • 12
    @Kyralessa thats is covered, it's ok not to shake hands if you're missing the hand, likewise not bow if you can't physically bow... question is not about physical problems. – Kilisi Oct 8 at 10:07
  • 8
    @Kyralessa he would have to explain it, but people might be more understanding of a physical incapacity than of what can be seen as "when our cultures clash, I will follow mine rather than yours". – Aaron Oct 8 at 12:49
  • 10
    @Kyralessa From my non-religious point of view (which I understand might be inadequate) your religion is part of your culture, I'm sorry if I offended you by suggesting so. I'm not telling you you should bow no matter what, I'm saying that you should expect to sometimes be seen as disrespectful if you chose not to for reasons other than physical incapacity. I'm not sure there's a way around that ; some will be understanding of the importance you put into your faith over their culture, some much less. – Aaron Oct 8 at 13:04
  • 8
    @Kyralessa Aaron is right, I'm not saying he should bow, just that he shouldn't expect people not to see it as a sign of disrespect – Kilisi Oct 8 at 13:10

In my experience (worked 4 years in Japan) Japanese are pretty tolerant to foreigners in work contexts. If you tell our coworker/boss about a religious reason, they will probably consider it strange (anyway they will do so), but live with it as long as

  • The exceptions which they make for you are not too many (i.e. you should follow every other rule which you can follow with a good conscience without questioning)

  • you do not have a role facing to the outside or even the public

  • your behavior is not discussed officially (i.e. do not expect to get any official declaration or explanation) - in Japan "official" exceptions are seldom and complicated, but unofficial tolerance is easier.

  • you then stick to the western rules and greet consistently (i.e. shake hands)

  • you are happy with other team members taking official roles for the team (e.g. accepting an company award)

Some time ago I read a post on one of the SE sites where a Muslim man did not want to shake a female colleague's hand, because he felt that touching a woman he was not married to would violate his religious beliefs. His solution was to put his hand on his heart and say "I'm sorry, but my religion doesn't allow me to shake your hand." As a woman, I would not have been at all offended by that response (although I would be happier if he did the hand on heart thing with male colleagues as well as female colleagues).

Inspired by that, instead of bowing, use an alternative gesture that clearly indicates respect, accompanied with a short explanation. Perhaps you could put your hand on your heart, or shake the person's hand (if your religious views allow it) and say something like "I'm sorry, but my religion doesn't allow me to bow." I don't know for sure how this would be received in Japan, but I suspect no one would be offended. You might read the post I linked to for other ideas.

  • What if i have only a basic understanding od apanese which allows me tonbe able to work, should i improve my grammar then? Perhaps you could edit the answer, thank you – Salmaan Al-Faaris yesterday

As an American with a strong interest in Japan and Japanese culture I think that you will be fine without bowing. This is second-hand advice, so definitely don't treat it as the final word.

Bowing in Japan is (as far as I am aware) a lot more intricate than just bending at the waist to some arbitrary angle. Advice that I have received as someone travelling to Japan (and that I have seen given to other travelers) is to not bother trying to bow. It's apparently just very difficult to appreciate all of the nuances and implications as an outsider, and so even if you were to bow there is a good chance that you're doing it "wrong" in some way or another (though probably not to any horrifying extent, just not exactly correct for your situation).

Japan is an interesting place, but it's very used to tourists and other travelers that don't really understand the intricacies of Japanese culture. Especially if you're in a larger city any good-faith effort to be polite will likely be received well (they were certainly accommodating of and kind about my poor-quality Japanese language skills).

Shaking hands is supposed to be getting more popular there, especially for businesspeople, but is still unusual. If you're there for business purposes you'll be better off reading up on customary business card exchange (it's a real thing, and there are rules for it) than worrying about bowing or not. And if you're there just to visit, the standard of behavior expected of you will be quite low. Honestly, by worrying about this at all you are probably ahead of the game compared with any random tourist.

I am also a Muslim but it is a misconception to think greeting in this manner is going against Islam.

If you look around, you will notice many instances where muslim sons bow at the feet of their mothers (particularly after long seperations) out of enormous respect for them.

I am from Pakistan and it is a common form of greeting in rural areas for younger men & women to bow to older women so they can put their hands over the head as in blessings. Because men are taller and some women are old enough they can't even stand, I myself literall bow for them so they can put their hand on my head.

Also notice, the japenese people also bow to you, perhaps more than you can bow for them so it is not a form of submission but a mutual respect.

New contributor
Zeb is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.