BASEL – Swiss Muslim students will be forced to shake their teachers’ hand after regional authorities ruled that religious belief is no excuse for refusing to touch the opposite sex.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” regional education authorities in the northern Swiss canton of Basel-Country said in a statement cited by Agence France Presse (AFP).
According to the new rule, parents or guardians of pupils who refuse to shake a teacher’s hand could now face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,000, 4,500 euros).
Explaining Wednesday’s ruling, authorities said “the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweighs that concerning the freedom of belief of students.”
The decision followed a national uproar over revelations last month that a middle school allowed two brothers, aged 14 and 15 with Syrian nationality, not to shake their teachers’ hands after they complained that doing so was counter to their religious beliefs if the teacher was a woman.
The students argued that Islam does not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of certain immediate family members.
Some Swiss Muslim groups said there was no religious justification for refusing to shake a female teacher’s hand and urged the Swiss not to give in to extremist demands.
But one Islamic organization said a handshake between men and women was prohibited, the BBC reported.
The father of the two boys, an imam based in Basel and a Syrian national, moved to Switzerland in 2001 and was granted asylum.
After the uproar over the hand shake, cantonal authorities last month announced that naturalization proceedings for the Syrian family had been put on hold.
According to the CIA Factbook, Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims, representing 5 percent of the country’s nearly eight million people.
Islam intends to build a community based on chastity, modesty and bashfulness. Therefore, Islamic teachings have laid restrictions on the interaction between marriageable men and women to block all ways to evil practices. Islam takes prohibitive measures and does not wait for evil to take place.
Even if there is no specific textual indication to the prohibition of shaking hands between non-mahram men and women, one will definitely infer that such practice is prohibited in Islam. If gazing at a woman is prohibited, touching a part of her body can never be permissible.
As a practical solution for any situation Muslims may face, Dr. Muhammad Salama, who has a PhD in Islamic Studies in English and an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Islamic Science in Al-Madinah International University, said one can shake hand with a strange man who does not know your norm as long as there is no temptation.