Switzerland: Muslim Boys Refuse To Shake Hands With Female Teachers, Get Their Citizenship Process Suspended

Switzerland has suspended the citizenship process for two Muslim teenage boys and their family members, all from Syria, after they reportedly refused to shake hands with their female teachers at school citing religious reasons. According to Al-Jazeera, the teenagers are aged 14 and 15 and are the sons of a Muslim political refugee from Syria who was granted asylum in Switzerland back in 2001.

The teenage boys attended school in the town of Therwil located in northern Switzerland and had refused on multiple occasions to interact with female teachers or shake hands with them. The incident gained attention after the boys refused to participate in a Swiss custom that involves pupils shaking hands with their teachers. The boys had reportedly told school officials that their religion does not allow them to do so. The boys had also informed educational officials from the country that any physical contact with women who are not their own family members “violated their interpretation of Islam.”

Subsequently, the two teenage boys were exempted from participating in the custom. They were, however, also told to avoid shaking hands with male teachers so that there is no gender discrimination. In an interview with a local news agency, the teenage boys had said that any custom requiring them to shake hands with female teachers “is discriminatory” and that “no one can force us to touch hands.”

However, after the news about the boys’ refusal to shake hands with female teachers became national news, leading Swiss politicians came to the fore insisting that “shaking hands is part of Swiss culture” and that anyone living in the country should adhere to their customs and traditions. In the forefront was the justice minister of Switzerland, Simonetta Sommaruga. People have also responded to the incident on social media websites.

After hearing their arguments, the authorities in the canton of Basel-Country, where Therwil is located, on Tuesday said that naturalization proceedings for the family had been put on hold. While the incident has spurred a national debate in Switzerland, authorities say that suspensions of these kind are part of normal procedure. They add that these suspensions are issued for authorities to look for supplementary information regarding the people who are concerned with the citizenship process.

Meanwhile, Georges Thuring, the president of the commission that oversees local citizenship applications, was quoted by a news agency from Switzerland saying, “I don’t think we can talk of integration in relation to handshake objectors. Personally, I would reject their request.”

He further added, “As president of the commission, I assure you that the request will be examined properly, like any other”.

Switzerland has a population of nearly 8 million people out of which over 250,000 people are Muslims. This is also not the first time Muslims living in Switzerland had their share of trysts with the laws and culture there. In the past, several Muslim parents have asked that their daughters be exempted from swimming lessons. After several schools banned the use of full face veils, Swiss Muslims chose the legal route and have secured victories after which Muslim girls continued to use full face veils in schools across Switzerland.

A Mosque in SWitzerland. This one is in Geneva. By MHM55 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15038755 A Mosque in SWitzerland. This one is in Geneva. By MHM55 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, [Wikimedia Commons]Back in 2011, several Muslim groups, mainly consisting of immigrants, had demanded that the emblematic white cross on the Swiss national flag be removed because they see the cross as a Christian symbol which for them is offensive. They added that the cross as a Christian symbol “no longer corresponds to today’s multicultural Switzerland.” The group had also launched a nationwide campaign that asked Swiss citizens to consider adopting a flag that is less offensive to Muslim immigrants.

Do you think the Muslim boys and their family should be granted citizenship in Switzerland?

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