The Swiss city of Lausanne has blocked a Muslim couple’s bid to become Swiss nationals over their refusal to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
By – Bridie Pearson-Jones
The municipality refused to grant the couple’s citizenship application due to ‘their lack of respect for gender equality’ Lausanne mayor Gregoire Junod said.
He said a municipal commission had questioned the couple several months ago to determine if they met the criteria for citizenship, but had determined in the ruling made public Friday that they missed the mark on integration.
He did not to divulge the couple’s nationalities or other identifying details, but said they ‘did not shake hands with people of the opposite sex.’
They also ‘showed great difficulty in answering questions asked by people of the opposite sex,’ he said.
Some devout Muslims argue that Islam does not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of certain immediate family members.
Junod pointed out that freedom of belief and religion is enshrined in the laws of the Canton of Vaud, which encompasses Lausanne, but ‘religious practice does not fall outside the law,’ he stressed.
His vice-mayor, Pierre-Antoine Hildbrand, who was on the three-member commission that questioned the couple described himself as ‘very satisfied with the decision’ to deny the couple’s application.
‘The constitution and equality between men and women prevails over bigotry,’ he said.
The couple now has 30 days to appeal the decision.
This is not the first time refused handshakes have stirred tensions in Switzerland.
In 2016, there was national uproar over revelations that a middle school in the north of the country had allowed two Syrian brothers not to shake their teachers’ hands after they complained that doing so was counter to their religious beliefs if the teacher was a woman.
This ran counter to a deeply entrenched Swiss tradition of students shaking their teacher’s hands as a sign of respect, and amid the outcry regional authorities quickly overruled the school’s decision.
Yesterday, a Muslim woman won a discrimination case in Sweden after she was rejected during a job interview for refusing to shake the hand of the interviewer.
Farah Alhajeh, 24, had been invited to interview for a job as an interpreter in Uppsala in May, 2016.
Upon arrival she told the male interviewer that she did not want to shake his hand, citing religious rules of her faith.
Instead, she greeted him by placing a hand over her heart, as is common among Muslims of similar persuasion.
She told the Swedish Labour Court that the interviewer, an executive at the company, had become red in the face and told her: ‘Here, everyone must shake hands’.
Ms Alhajeh claims she was then frogmarched out of the office and told the interview was over.
‘As soon as I got into the lift I started crying,’ she told SVT. ‘It had never happened to me before – it didn’t feel good at all. It was awful’.
She told the broadcaster she had then decided to report the company to Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman, who took her case to court.
Read more: From 2018/08/17