GENEVA (AFP) - Some male Muslim students in Switzerland will no longer need to shake hands with their female teachers, following a ruling that has caused an uproar and consternation in the country.
Education authorities in the northern Swiss municipality of Therwil, in the canton of Basel-Country, reached the controversial decision after two male students complained that the Swiss custom of shaking hands with the teacher is counter to their religious beliefs if the teacher is a woman.
They argued that Islam does not permit physical contact with a person of the opposite sex, with the exception of certain immediate family members.
The decision triggered an outcry across Switzerland with Felix Mueri, who heads the parliamentary commission on science, education and culture, insisting that "shaking hands is part of our culture".
"This is a gesture of respect and good manners," he told the 20Minuten news site.
Christoph Eymann, who heads the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, meanwhile said that "such exceptions to the rules are not the solution".
"We cannot tolerate that women in the public service are treated differently from men," he told Swiss television.
Christine Akeret, in charge of the Therwil school system, told media she was not satisfied with the decision, but had not seen any other option.
"It is difficult when someone refuses to adopt our way of life," she said, complaining that she had not received any support from the surrounding canton when she had raised the problem with the authorities there.
Basel-Country canton authorities, who have the power to overturn the Therwil decision, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.