Switzerland to Muslim Students: Shake Your Teacher’s Hand or Pay $5,000

Two Muslim students who refused to shake their female teacher's hand will be fined $5,000 if they don't do it.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 21: President of Switzerland Simonetta Sommaruga gestures during a press conference after her meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn in Brussels, Belgium on December 21, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 21: President of Switzerland Simonetta Sommaruga gestures during a press conference after her meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn in Brussels, Belgium on December 21, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 21: President of Switzerland Simonetta Sommaruga gestures during a press conference after her meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Jean Asselborn in Brussels, Belgium on December 21, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

When two teenage Muslim students from Syria told their school in Switzerland that to shake their female teacher's hand would violate their religious beliefs, administrators were sympathetic. So they made an exception: Unlike the school's other students, who shake each teacher's hand at the beginning and end of each class period, the two boys would be exempt from shaking anyone's hand at all.

Turns out the Swiss national government takes their handshakes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a regional authority announced Wednesday that the two boys would shake their female teachers' hands from now on -- or pay a $5,000 fine.  The local education department in Therwil, which is near the city of Basel, said in a statement Wednesday that the final decision was made because "the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion."

This came after the citizenship process for the teens' family was halted due to the incident. Authorities are now looking into their father's 2001 asylum claim. He is an imam.

When two teenage Muslim students from Syria told their school in Switzerland that to shake their female teacher’s hand would violate their religious beliefs, administrators were sympathetic. So they made an exception: Unlike the school’s other students, who shake each teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of each class period, the two boys would be exempt from shaking anyone’s hand at all.

Turns out the Swiss national government takes their handshakes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a regional authority announced Wednesday that the two boys would shake their female teachers’ hands from now on — or pay a $5,000 fine.  The local education department in Therwil, which is near the city of Basel, said in a statement Wednesday that the final decision was made because “the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion.”

This came after the citizenship process for the teens’ family was halted due to the incident. Authorities are now looking into their father’s 2001 asylum claim. He is an imam.

Last month, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga went on television to say that “the handshake is part of our culture.”

“We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom,” she said.

There are roughly 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and it’s unclear whether other exceptions were quietly made before this one. It’s also unclear what the two boys will do next. In an interview with Swiss media, one said they “could not just delete [their] culture as if it were a hard drive.”

Photo credit: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.