Swiss citizenship process suspended for family of Muslim 'no handshake' boys

Handshake (file pic) Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The boys' exemption from shaking hands with their teachers has been criticised

Switzerland has suspended the citizenship process for the family of two teenage Muslim brothers who refused to shake hands with female teachers.

The brothers aged 14 and 15 said physical contact with women who were not family members was against their faith.

Officials in Therwil then told them not to shake male teachers' hands to avoid gender discrimination.

But politicians insisted that shaking hands was part of the national culture.

The case has sparked a debate about religious freedoms, and the Basel-Country canton has requested an expert legal opinion on the matter.

A spokesman for the canton said naturalisation proceedings for the family had been put on hold, but added that such suspensions were common in citizenship procedures.

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The boys' father is a Syrian imam who moved to Switzerland in 2001 and was granted asylum.

Basel's migration office was seeking more information about the circumstances under which the father's asylum request was approved, AFP news agency reported.

There are about 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, which has a population of 8 million.

Some Swiss Muslim groups said there was no religious justification for refusing to shake a female teacher's hand and urged the Swiss not to give in to extremist demands. But one Islamic organisation said a handshake between men and women was prohibited.

There have been similar disputes where Muslim parents have demanded that their daughters be exempt from swimming lessons.

However, Muslim families have won court victories against schools that attempted to ban the full face veil.

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