It happened on the other side of the world, but a Swiss school’s choice to excuse two Muslim students from shaking their teachers hand has sparked anger in many countries around the world.
When two 14- and 15-year-old brothers refused to shake their female teachers hand last November, their school in Therwil near Basel, decided to allow them to commit to a verbal greeting instead so they did not have to compromise on their religion.
The boys and the school were both happy with this arrangement and have been using the verbal greeting ever since.
However, last week a Swiss media outlet published the story, sparking outrage across the country and the throughout many parts of the world.
Australia experienced a similar situation last year when a Victorian school was criticised for allowing Muslim students to leave the room when the national anthem was being sung.
Switzerland is in the midst of an ongoing debate on how to handle the integration of immigrants, and this story has only added fuel to the fire.
Switzerland’s Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the schoolboys’ actions was not how she imagined integration taking place.
“We cannot accept this, even in the name of religious freedom,” she said. “The handshake is part of our culture.”
The Muslim community in Swizerland has taken a diplomatic approach to the situation with president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations Montassar Benmrad citing the Islamic principle of respecting others and avoiding unnecessary embarrassment.
“It’s important that the Muslim students concerned show respect towards the teachers that educate them year-round,” Mr Benmrad said on the organisation’s website.
While many people have come out to say the students should have to conform to the local customs and manners, others say they should be allowed to excuse themselves on the basis of religious freedom.
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