Last month, a regional education board in Basel, Switzerland, excused two middle-school Syrian boys from shaking their female teacher’s hand after they claimed it was against their religious beliefs. The teenage brothers argued Islam does not allow physical contact with a person of the opposite sex unless they are an immediate family member.
In order to avoid discrimination against female teacher, the local Therwil council independently decided to exempt the 14- and 15-year-old from shaking any teacher’s hands, be it a man or a woman.
However, since the country has a tradition of handshake greetings, the ruling sparked a debate on religious believes, with many asserting that those who cannot assimilate into Western cultures have no place in Western countries.
Following the backlash, Swiss authorities ruled Wednesday that the parents or guardians of students who refuse to shake a teacher's hand could face fines up to $5,000.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” education board said in a statement.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) accused Basel-Country of overstepping its authority, saying such measures would alienate local Muslim community rather than help them integrate into the society. They are planning to take legal action against the verdict regardless of any fines they might have to pay.
About 5 percent of the country's population practices Islam.
“Shaking hands when greeting one another is part of the culture in Switzerland and practiced as such at Therwil schools,” Therwil's local council said last month. “The decision of the school therefore doesn't reflect the position of the community council in this matter.”
Moreover, the family of the teenagers has also had their application for citizenship suspended.