Muslim schoolboys allowed to refuse women’s handshakes
February 20, 201712:22pm
Photo: Georges River College has adopted a policy allowing Muslim students to refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian
A SYDNEY school has adopted a policy allowing Muslim schoolboys to refuse to shake hands with women.
At a recent awards ceremony at Hurstville Boys Campus of Georges River College, female presenters were told by one of the two principals that some students would not shake their hands because of their Muslim faith, The Australian reported.
The boys were instead permitted to place a hand across their chest to show they would not be taking the hand of the women, many of them well-known figures from the local community.
A spokesman from the NSW Department of Education said this was an “agreed protocol” developed after extensive consultation with staff, parents and boys at the small, diverse public school of 354 students from year 7-10.
“At the school’s 2016 presentation day, the principal explained to invited guests making awards that some Muslim students may place their hand across their chest instead of shaking hands,” the spokesman said.
Photo: Islamic leaders said there were different interpretations of the teaching. (File picture).Source:istock
“The Department of Education requires its schools to recognise and respect the cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of all students, with the intent to promote an open and tolerant attitude towards a diverse Australian community.
Principals are best placed to know the needs of their local school communities when implementing this requirement.”
The practice reportedly comes from the Islamic hadith teaching that states: “It is better to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is not permissible to you.”
But senior Islamic figures questioned the strict literal interpretation of the hadith that forbids people from touching anyone of the opposite sex apart from a spouse or family member.
President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Keysar Trad told news.com.au the hadith was intended to help women avoid “unwelcome overtures or touch”.
He said he himself had followed the teaching for years, until he realised the Australian Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed was willing to shake women’s hands.
“The Islamic teachings offer great respect and protection for women,” said Mr Trad. “There are differences in interpretation.
“I used to apologise profusely and pray they were not offended, I used to feel so guilty.
“I did some research and they explained the whole idea is to protect women from unwelcome touching, if it’s an innocent handshake, it’s OK. It’s better not to offend a woman. I changed my approach.”
But he said young people should be “left free” to choose whether they shook hands with people of the opposite sex or not. “Nobody forced me,” he said. “I changed it through people talking to me.”
In May, a regional authority in Switzerland ruled that Muslim students must shake their teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of lessons, a traditional custom in the country. If they refused, they could face a fine.
The ruling came after a national controversy following a school allowing two Syrian brothers aged 14 and 15 to skip the custom because of their religious beliefs.