A school board in northern Switzerland said Wednesday that two Muslim boys who have refused to shake hands with their female teachers for religious reasons can be required to do so, ruling that their parents could face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs (about $6,500) if they don’t.
The decision comes after a school in the northern town of Therwil, near Basel, agreed last month to allow two teenage Muslim boys to refuse to shake hands with their female teachers on religious grounds. The school also decided the boys would not shake hands with male teachers to avoid discrimination.
The incident sparked a national debate — Swiss students often shake their teachers’ hands at the beginning and end of the day.
The two brothers, ages 14 and 15, had argued that shaking a female teacher’s hand was against their beliefs as Muslims because physical contact with the opposite sex is allowed only with family members.
One of the brothers posted material in support of the Islamic State on his Facebook page, the Basler Zeitung website reported.
The school’s decision was temporary, pending legal advice from the regional government.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland criticized the ruling, claiming on its website that the measure is “totalitarian” because its intent is to “forbid religious people from meeting their obligations to God.”
The Council said that if fines were given out it would take legal action.
About 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, 5% of the country’s population of 8 million.
“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 in a statement last month. “The decision of the school therefore doesn’t reflect the position of the community council in this matter.”
Shortly after the teenage boys’ refusal to shake hands became public, their family’s application for Swiss citizenship filed in January was put on hold. Authorities said they would investigate the circumstances under which the boys’ father, an imam at a mosque, arrived in Switzerland from Syria more than a decade ago.
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