Swiss Weigh Muslims' Refusal to Shake Female Teachers' Hands

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 1:59 AM

The public school in the northern town of Therwil, close Basel, recently accepted the teens' trust that they should only willingly touch the women they eventually marry.

A Swiss high school'south decision to accept two Muslim boys' refusal for religious reasons to shake hands with their female teachers has triggered a debate in the tiny Alpine country, where handshake greetings have long been a gender-neutral tradition.

The public school in the northern town of Therwil, close Basel, recently accepted the teens' trust that they should only willingly touch the women they eventually marry.

Regional spokeswoman Deborah Murith said Wednesday that the school'south decision centered on the balance between constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and gender equality. She said the school had ruled that if the boys won't shake hands with female teachers they should also be banned from shaking hands with male teachers.

However, she added the decision is temporary, pending valid advice that the school has sought from the Basel-Landschaft regional government on the matter.

The issue is but another episode showing how European executive have been grappling with ways to balance civil and religious rights on a continent that was long dominated by Christianity but has faced an inflow of Muslims in recent decades. Switzerland drew headlines in two thousand-ninth with a controversial ban on the construction of minarets.

Some political and religious leaders criticized the school's decision.

"Shaking hands when greeting one another is portion of the culture in Switzerland and practiced as such at Therwil schools," Therwil'south local council said in a statement. "The decision of the school therefore doesn't reflect the position of the community council in this matter."

In an email to The Associated Press late Wednesday, Mayor Reto Wolf said the city'south council hopes the regional government will give "a clear signal within days" about how to handle such issues.

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland well-known that politeness is a key aspect of Islamic tradition, and the practice of women and men shaking hands across gender lines varies from one predominantly Muslim country to another. The federation said refraining from handshakes is "inappropriate" in Switzerland.

"I'd urge students and parents to consider the following: Can refusing a handshake be more necessary than the Islamic commandment of mutual respect?" federation president Montassar BenMrad said.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, a former Swiss president, said on Swiss TV: "There are always new issues when it comes to coexisting, but in this case it seems absolutely clear to me that it'south totally incorrect for a baby to refuse to shake their teacher'south hand. That doesn't fall below the headline freedom of religion. On the contrary, I think it'south portion our culture to shake hands."

———

Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.

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