Female Muslim teacher quits job over pressure to shake hands with men

© Stefanie Loos
A Swedish school principal found it “discriminatory” that a female Muslim teacher would not want to shake hands with a male colleague. The woman chose to quit and file a complaint with the country’s equality ombudsman.

20-year-old Fardous El-Sakka had been working as a substitute teacher at Kunskapsskolan in Helsingborg, southern Sweden, since August. As her religious beliefs dictate, she did not shake hands with her male colleagues, putting her hand on her heart and bowing instead. Yet one of the male staff members was offended by her refusing him a handshake, Swedish newspaper Expressen states, and reported the incident to the school authorities.

“If anyone is discriminated against here, it is the employee whose hand she refused to take. The man felt extremely offended,” school principal Lidija Münchmeyer told the newspaper.

Fardous was called in for a talk with the principal, who told her that staff members are required to respect the school’s values if they want to work there, such as gender equality, for instance.

“She stood up and said, ‘Then I go now,’” Münchmeyer said.

“[Our] school that does not make any difference between people or treat people differently. That is what we teach our students, and we must also act in this manner ourselves,” the principal said.

The young woman quit, but reported the incident to Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman. As the woman is a member of the Swedish trade union confederation, her case is likely to be dealt with by it. She says she has not received a reply to her complaint yet, and therefore does not want to share much with the press.

The 20-year-old aspiring teacher says it was the first time someone had felt wronged by her refusal to shake hands with them. She believes the school authorities have not been just to her and treated her unfairly.

Fardous’s case is yet another in the growing line of similar incidents both in Sweden and in Europe in general. In June, a male Muslim passport inspector at the Swedish border was reported by female colleagues for refusing to shake hands with them, and in his turn accused them of religion-based discrimination. In July, a Muslim municipality worker in southern Sweden was sacked after refusing to shake hands with female co-workers. Like Fardous, he was told his actions breached equality policies. The man is now suing the state.

Similar cases have also been reported in recent months in Germany and Switzerland.