Swiss school board rules Muslim boys must shake hands with female teachers

Two men shaking hands.

Two men shaking hands.

School officials in a northern Switzerland town announced Wednesday that Muslim boys are required to shake hands with their female teachers or their parents could potentially be fined.

The ruling comes after two Muslim boys were told they could temporarily skip the gender-neutral tradition for religious reasons. The decision from the Swiss high school in Therwil caused a fierce debate last month.

The Therwil school district sought the regional school board’s advice after accepting the boys’ beliefs that they should only touch the women whom they will actually marry.

Under the school board’s decision, teachers at the school can force their students to shake hands, according to The Telegraph.

"The public interest concerning the equality of men and women as well as the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the pupils' freedom of religion and belief," the officials said in a statement. "The social gesture of shaking hands is important if pupils are to be prepared for working life."

If the students fail to shake hands with their teachers, their parents could face a fine of up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($3,830).

The Central Islamic Council of Switzerland criticized the decision, saying authorities are “grossly overstepping their competency,” and claiming the measures won’t help the integration of Muslims into Europe. The council said it will take legal action should the school levy any punishment against boys who refuse the handshake.

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland defended the board’s decision, saying that politeness is part of the Islamic tradition and refusing the handshake is “inappropriate”.

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