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Swiss school lambasted for backing Muslim teens who refuse to shake hands with female teachers

A school in Switzerland says its Muslim pupils will no longer have to shake hands with female teachers following a controversial ruling. Two male Muslim students said they did not want to shake hands with women as it was against their religion.

The school in the northern Swiss municipality of Therwil, which is in the canton of Basel, took the decision after two male pupils, aged 14 and 15, complained that they were being made to shake hands with their teachers, including female members of staff, which is part of Swiss custom. The Muslim students said this went against their religious beliefs.

The boys argued that Islam does not permit any physical contact between members of the opposite sex, unless it is with family members.

The decision was not met well across much of Switzerland, with Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga weighing into the debate, saying that “shaking hands is part of our culture,” according to AFP.

Meanwhile, Christoph Eymann, who heads the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, agreed with Sommaruga, insisting:“We cannot tolerate that women in the public service are treated differently from men.” 

The local Therwil council also did not come out in support of the school’s decision; however, the council said it “will not intervene as [it] is the responsibility of the school to set the rules,” spokeswoman Monika Wyss told AFP in a statement.

“The same rules should apply to all students,” argued union president Beat Zemp, as cited by Swiss


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