Muslim boy ordered to shake hands with female teachers after losing appeal in Swiss school

© Daniel Munoz
A school in a Swiss canton has dismissed the appeal of a 15-year-old Muslim boy who had been ordered to shake hands with his teacher. The case triggered nationwide outrage back in May after the student said that the ritual of handshakes was counter to Islam.

The school council in Therwil, Basel-Country rejected the complaint filed by his parents aimed at overturning the decision ordering the boy to shake hands with teachers. The school issued a statement on Monday saying it was in teacher’s right to demand a handshake.  

The council’s decision was hailed by the head of the city’s education department, Monica Gschwind. The official said the ritual of handshakes is not only a sign of decency but is also “deeply rooted in our society and culture,” adding that she was “pleased” with the school’s ruling.

“For me it is clear: the handshake is enforced – no ifs and buts,” Gschwind said. She went on to say that everyone regardless of their religion should respect Swiss traditions. 

The boy’s parents now have an option to lodge a further appeal with the city’s education authorities, but Gschwind stressed she would lobby the local authorities to comply with the school’s ruling.

Salhani and his older brother made headlines back in May after they said they could not shake hands with a female teacher since Islam does not allow physical contact with a member of the opposite sex, unless they are family. The high school initially tried to reach a compromise and passed a controversial ruling, saying that the students will no longer have to shake hands with female teachers.

However, the decision triggered nationwide criticism, and the school then abolished the ruling. Local authorities later ruled that refusal to follow the Swiss tradition of handshake would trigger fines up to 5,000 francs or other disciplinary measures.

“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 department of education, culture and sport in the canton of Basel-Landschaft, northern Switzerland said in May.