Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga, above, is among a number of politicians and educators who have slammed a decision by a secondary school to exempt Muslims pupils from shaking hands with female teachers.
The decision, the BBC reports, came after the school granted special dispensation to two boys, aged 14 and 15, who have lived in Switzerland for several years.
The boys had told the school in the small, northern town of Therwil it was against their faith to touch a woman outside their family.
Sommaruga said shaking hands was part of Swiss culture and daily life and that such dispensation for children was not her idea of integration.
A local teachers’ union said the exemption discriminated against women.
The case has propelled Therwil, a town of 10,000 people in the Basel-Country canton, to the centre of a national debate about Swiss identity. A similar case has been reported elsewhere in the region.
Christian Amsler, head of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, suggested that the school may have tried to get an “unpleasant problem out of the way” but had simply made a mistake.
Felix Mueri, the head of the Swiss parliament’s Education Commission and a member of the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party, said the handshake was a gesture of respect.
Even Muslim groups have disagreed with the school’s response.
Today’s it’s the handshake; and what will it be tomorrow?
There was no reference in the Koran justifying a refusal to shake a woman teacher’s hand, said the Swiss Federation of Islamic Organisations. Saida Keller-Messahli of the Forum for Progressive Islam urged the Swiss not to give in to extremist demands.
However the smaller Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said that a handshake between men and women was prohibited. spokesman Abdel Azziz Qaasim Illi, above, said:
After the sex attacks in Cologne (on New Year’s Eve), they asked Muslims to keep their distance from women; now they demand they get closer to them.
The beleaguered school has tried to find a compromise, by deciding that the two pupils should not greet either men or women with a handshake.
Headteacher Juerg Lauener said the school had no reason to adjust its policy, unless the local authorities ruled against its decision.
Local education officials said the school had taken a pragmatic approach, but agreed it was not a permanent solution as rules should be the same for all pupils.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn