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Education Authorities in Switzerland Yield to Male Muslim Students, Exempt Them from Having to Shake the Hands of Female Teachers

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"It is difficult when someone refuses to adopt our way of life."

Male Muslim students in Switzerland will no longer have to shake their female teachers’ hands, according to a recent ruling that has many Swiss citizens outraged.

The decision by education authorities in the northern Swiss municipality of Therwil comes after two male Muslim students complained that the country’s custom of shaking hands with one’s teacher goes against their religious convictions, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

The young men claimed that Islam forbids physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of certain immediate family members. Thus, according to their argument, shaking hands with a female teacher is inappropriate and potentially blasphemous.

A flood of passionate objections from Swiss leaders followed the ruling.

Felix Mueri, who is in charge of the Swiss parliamentary commission on science, education and culture, asserted that "shaking hands is part of our culture."

"This is a gesture of respect and good manners," he told the 20Minuten news site.

Christoph Eymann, who heads the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, insisted that "such exceptions to the rules are not the solution."

"We cannot tolerate that women in the public service are treated differently from men," Eymann told Swiss television.

Christine Akeret, head of the Therwil school system, also said she was not satisfied with the decision, but had not seen any other option, AFP reported.

"It is difficult when someone refuses to adopt our way of life," she said, adding that she never received any support from the surrounding canton of Basel-Country when she initially raised the issue with the authorities there.

It is within the power of Basel-Country canton authorities to overturn the Therwil decision. Whether they decide to do this remains unknown. Canton authorities did not immediately respond to the AFP’s requests for comment.

Front page photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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