Assalamualaikum. What is the ruling of shaking hands when the COVID-19 pandemic is still rampant in our community?
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions and all those who follow his footsteps until the Last Day.
Sunnah of Shaking Hands
Undeniably, shaking hands with the intention of strengthening the silaturrahim relationship for the sake of Allah SWT is a commendable act and one is promised forgiveness for it. This is as stated in a hadith narrated by al-Barra’ bin Azib, where the Prophet PBUH said:
مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمَيْنِ يَلْتَقِيَانِ فَيَتَصَافَحَانِ إِلاَّ غُفِرَ لَهُمَا قَبْلَ أَنْ يَفْتَرِقَا
“Two Muslims will not meet and shake hands having their sins forgiven them before they separate.” 
Shaking hands when meeting another person is sunnah. This is the ijma’ of scholars. Ibn Battal also stated that the original ruling for shaking hands is encouraged and commendable according to scholars in general. 
This act is also stated by most fiqh scholars of which shaking hands is sunnah and this is based on several sahih and hasan evidences. 
The Ruling of Shaking Hands During the Spread of COVID-19
In the issue of shaking hands, for the time being, in Malaysia, alhamdulillah, the situation is under control, however, it is still under supervision and observation for infection cases continue to be recorded. Hence, we are commanded to strive to avoid contributing to the spread of the virus. The reason is physical contact is one of the ways the virus can spread. Thus, in our opinion, right now, shaking hands isn’t suitable as an ihtiyat (precaution) and also a way or initiative to contain the spread of this virus from continuing, although it is originally sunnah.
The reason is there is a sahih narration from the Prophet PBUH as narrated by Imam Musli related to the instruction of the Prophet PBUH to avoid a leper. This is due to the fact that leprosy is a type of infectious disease. Hence, the instruction from the Prophet PBUH to distance oneself is to contain the spread of the disease to others or other regions which have yet to be infected.
From al-Syarid bin Suwaid RA, he said:
كَانَ فِي وَفْدِ ثَقِيفٍ رَجُلٌ مَجْذُومٌ، فَأَرْسَلَ إِلَيْهِ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: إِنَّا قَدْ بَايَعْنَاكَ فَارْجِعْ
‘Amr b. ash-Sharid told on his father’s authority that there was a man with tubercular leprosy in the deputation of Thaqif and the Prophet sent to him a message: “We have taken your oath of allegiance, so go home.” 
According to Imam al-Nawawi, there are two hadiths that can seem to have a contradiction in the interaction with a leper. Most scholars are inclined to gather both narrations and stated that the instruction of the Prophet PBUH to avoid or distance oneself from a leper is sunnah and a precautionary step. 
This is also in line with the order issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to minimize touch or physical contact such as shaking hands for the virus can be spread through this. Thus, we truly support the order made by MOH to acknowledge another person by placing one’s hands on one’s chest to avoid any physical contact.
Moreover, we are also encouraged when acknowledging another by giving salam, signalling our acknowledgement by placing our hands on our chest to also smile when doing so. The reason is that giving salam and smiling is an encouraged sunnah of the Prophet PBUH as stated in the following narration:
- From Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-As R.A, he said:
أنَّ رجلًا سأَل النبيَّ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم: أيُّ الإسلامِ خيرٌ؟ قال: تُطعِمُ الطعامَ، وتَقرَأُ السلامَ على مَن عرَفتَ، وعلى مَن لم تَعرِفْ
A man asked the Prophet, “What Islamic traits are the best?” The Prophet said, “Feed the people, and greet those whom you know and those whom you do not know.” 
- From Abu Zar R.A, the Prophet PBUH said:
لَا تَحْقِرَنَّ مِنَ الْمَعْرُوفِ شَيْئًا، وَلَوْ أَنْ تَلْقَى أَخَاكَ بِوَجْهٍ طَلْقٍ
“Do not consider any act of goodness as being insignificant even if it is meeting your brother with a cheerful face.” 
Reviewing several of the above-mentioned considerations, we are inclined towards not shaking hands for the time being until the situation returns to normal. However, shaking hands can be done in a form of an acknowledgement to another by placing our hand on our chest or if the safety of both parties can be ensured as explained above. Wallahu a’lam.