Switzerland Tells Muslim Students To Shake Teachers’ Hands Or Face Huge Fines

Muslim students in one part of Switzerland must shake their school teachers’ hands when the teacher says so, even if the students’ religion forbids them from making contact with the opposite sex, France 24 is reporting.

In Switzerland, handshakes are considered a sign of respect, and to refuse to do so is considered an unforgivable social faux pas. In fact, earlier this year, a Muslim member of Switzerland’s Green Party caused a kerfuffle after refusing to shake the hand of a female reporter because he is Muslim. According to Middle East Eye, Yasri Khan placed his hand over his heart to greet the reporter instead, but it wasn’t good enough for the Swiss public, and he was forced to resign.

Showing respect via shaking hands also extends to children and adults. In a Swiss school, if a teacher demands a handshake, he or she is expected to get one. For a student to refuse is considered an egregious sign of disrespect and can get the student in huge trouble.

For some of the estimated 350,000 Muslims living in Switzerland, this is a problem. Some interpretations of Islam forbid personal contact with someone of the opposite sex (with some exceptions for close family members). And for two male Muslim teenagers in the Swiss town of Therwil, this clash of cultures came to a head earlier this year when the boys, brothers aged 14 and 15, refused to shake hands with their female teacher.

The boys’ school made a decision — independent of any input from any governmental body — to allow the boys to be exempted from shaking hands with any teachers, male or female. However, that decision caused a “national uproar” throughout Switzerland, and on Wednesday, the government of the canton (a canton is an administrative subdivision, roughly equivalent to a U.S. state) of Basel-Landschaft intervened.

Specifically, the canton’s government made two points about the school’s ruling. First, the government said that allowing an exemption for boys to not touch women (or for girls to not touch men) goes against Switzerland’s commitment to gender equality.

“The public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners is far greater than that concerning the freedom of belief of students.”

More broadly, the government ruled that handshakes are an intrinsic aspect of Swiss school culture that can’t be subverted by a small minority of students.

“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake.”

This means that, effective immediately, the exemption allowing the Muslim brothers to not shake hands with their teachers will be lifted.

Students who refuse to shake hands with their teacher can expect severe criminal penalties for their parents. Specifically, their parents will be fined up to 5,000 Swiss francs (just over $5,000) per violation.

The Swiss case illustrates the issues facing schools in Europe as young Muslims, many of them recent immigrants and refugees, attempt to integrate themselves into a Western society that can sometimes be at odds with Islam’s values and culture.

For example, in Austria, according to this Inquisitr report, three young schoolgirls were sexually harassed and assaulted by their classmates – four Muslim immigrant boys from Syria and Afghanistan seeking asylum in the European country – for months before anyone took action. The girls were subjected to increasingly violent and severe attacks by the four boys. It started with the boys groping the girls on the buttocks, and it later progressed to fondling. Then the attacks started getting worse; one of the immigrant boys punched one of the girls so hard in the back of the head that she smashed her face on a desk. And on Wednesday, one of the boys smashed a girl’s head into a locker.

In the boys’ Islamic culture, the right of girls to get an education at all is fiercely — even violently — debated, and even so, women and girls have few rights and are often subject to violence, both physical and sexual.

Do you think Swiss schools should allow Muslim students to be exempt from having to shake hands with their teachers?

[Image via Gorosi/Shutterstock]