Muslim Teen In Switzerland Must Shake Teacher's Hand

| by David Bonner
The school in Therwil, SwitzerlandThe school in Therwil, Switzerland

In Switzerland, it's standard practice for schoolchildren to shake the hand of their teacher at the beginning and end of each day.

In April 2016, controversy erupted when two Muslim students at the school in the town of Therwil requested an exemption from shaking a female teacher's hand, on the grounds that doing so violates their Islamic faith, The Washington Post reports.

The local school district ruled in favor of the brothers, who are aged 14 and 15, granting them an exception from the hand-shaking tradition.

The decision quickly led to nationwide controversy. In an interview with Swiss-German broadcaster SRF Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said: "We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom ... The handshake is part of our culture."

Felix Mueri, a member of the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party and head of the Swiss parliament's education commission, also disagreed in an interview with the 20 Minuten news site. "Today's it's the handshake and what will it be tomorrow?" he asked.

The Swiss teachers' union is also opposed to the plan. The school itself has defended the decision, despite the controversy.

The handshaking controversy is part of a larger national debate regarding the integration of Islam into Swiss society, notes The Washington Post.

Muslims constitute about 5 percent of the Swiss population, which is apparently alarming to many citizens who make up the other 95 percent, as indicated by a law by voters in 2009 banning the wearing of burqas in public, which is punishable by a $10,000 fine.

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland says the non-Muslim 95 percent don’t have anything to worry about. In a statement, the group said: "One would think that the continued existence of Switzerland's core values was at stake, when this particular case in fact involves just two high school students who have said they wish to greet their teacher in a different way than with a handshake.”

On Sept. 21, the school district reversed its initial decision, and decreed that “a teacher has the right to demand a handshake” from any pupil, reports The Independent. As a result, students must agree to shaking hands with female teachers or face being fined and disciplined.

One of the two students involved in the matter, Amer Salhani, appealed the decision, but his appeal was denied. While the older brother since left the school, the younger brother is liable for fines of $4,125 if he refuses to shake hands with his teacher.

Sources: Independent, The Washington Post / Photo credit: Google Maps via Independent

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