Muslim schoolboys who refused to shake hands with female teachers lose appeal

Case at school near Basel sparks fierce debate across Switzerland

Gabriel Samuels
Wednesday 21 September 2016 12:31
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The younger brother has remained and reportedly still refuses to shake hands with female teachers
The younger brother has remained and reportedly still refuses to shake hands with female teachers

A 15-year-old Muslim schoolboy studying in Switzerland has been told he must agree to shaking hands with female teachers or face being fined and disciplined.

Amer Salhani lost his appeal after refusing to shake hands at the school in Therwil in April, an action he said went against his religious beliefs. He and his fellow pupils will now receive fines of up to 5,000CHF (£4,000) for refusing to comply.

Mr Salhani and his older brother were initially granted a temporary waiver while the local teaching authority discussed the issue, but education officials agreed “a teacher has the right to demand a handshake” from any of their pupils.

The school initially tried to reach a compromise by allowing the pupils to refuse handshakes from female teachers, but the ruling was met with international criticism and quickly abolished.

The older brother left the school in June, but the younger has remained and reportedly still refused to shake hands with female teachers at the start of the current academic year, according to the news website Blick.

Monica Gschwind, the head of Therwil's education department, said: "Shaking hands with teachers is deeply rooted in our society and culture. For me it is clear: the handshake is enforced - no ifs, no buts."

At the time of the incident, the region’s education authority said: “The public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of conscience (freedom of religion) of the students.”

The disciplinary measures could take the form of an oral warning or debate with parents, and the education authority are considering passing a bill to “provide future clarity” on the issue.

The boy’s parents have been given another chance to launch an appeal which will have to be brought to the local authority.

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