Switzerland suspends citizenship claim for Muslim boys who refused woman’s handshake

Switzerland has suspended the citizenship process for the family of two young Syrian brothers after the boys refused to shake hands with their female school teachers.

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The boys, aged 14 and 15, said physical contact with women who were not relatives was against their Islamic faith.

The school granted them an exception to the school rule, but officials in the northern municipality of Therwil told them not to shake hands with male teachers either to avoid discrimination.

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The incident sparked a national debate over religious freedoms in Switzerland, with the country’s justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga telling Swiss public television “shaking hands is part of our culture”.

A spokesman for the Basel-Country canton, where Therwil is located, said naturalisation proceedings had been put on hold.

But he said such suspensions were common in citizenship procedures.

The boys’ father is a Syrian imam who moved to Switzerland in 2001 and had his asylum request granted.

The migration office in Basel is seeking more information about the circumstances under which the father’s asylum claim was accepted, according to the AFP news agency.

Some Swiss Muslim groups said there was no religious reason to refuse a female teacher’s handshake and urged the country not to give in to extremist demands.

However one Islamic organisation said a handshake between a man and a woman was prohibited. 

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