OSLO – A Muslim teacher who refused to shake hands with a female colleague has been dismissed from job, stirring debates between those seeing his action as discrimination against women and others who see the dismissal as a violation of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
“We have religious freedom in Norway,” said Akhenaton Oddvar de Leon, the leader of the Organization Against Public Discrimination (OMOD), Sputnik News reported.
“One could say that you don’t get the job if your religious practice is an obstacle for the job itself, but this is not the case here,” he said.
The dilemma started when Ekeberg Primary School in Oslo refused to prolong the contract of a Muslim fill-in teacher who refused to shake hands with his female colleagues for religious reasons, the daily newspaper Dagsavisen reported.
“Our female teachers experienced that he rejected their hands,” former school Principal Bente Alfheim said.
According to Alfheim, the Muslim teacher informed the school about his religious convictions before receiving his job.
“We have always said it was a problem, we never said we accepted it. Nevertheless, we were still open to inclusion, though, and would give him an opportunity,” Alfheim told national broadcaster NRK.
The teacher rejected the notion that he refused to shake hands out of disrespect for women, stressing that the idea was to “create fewer temptations.”
He also said he was following the teachings of the prophet.
The handshakes have stirred a number of rows across Scandinavia, where some Muslim men and women have refused to shake hands with the opposite sex based on the prescriptions of Islam.
Senior Swedish Green Party member Yasri Khan, who had to step down following his refusal to shake hands with a female reporter, is arguably the most high-profile case.
Equality and Non-Discrimination Ombudsperson Hanne Bjurstrøm said that society should be more open to other ways of greeting than handshaking.
“Of course, you should treat your colleagues with respect, but there are many ways of doing just that. For example, one can also look in the eye and give a nod, instead of shaking hands,” Bjurstrøm told the newspaper Vårt Land.
Nevertheless, she admitted that refusing to shake hands with parents and children will “almost always be incompatible with the Norwegian norm.”