Muslim Woman Leaves Job After Being Told To Shake Hands With Male Colleagues

Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
This story was originally published on Refinery29's U.K. site.

A woman has quit her teaching job after being told she must shake hands with her male colleagues rather than use an alternative greeting.

Twenty-year-old Fardous El-Sakka, who is Muslim, had been working as a supply teacher for a group of independent schools in Helsingborg, Sweden, since August, when a male colleague took offense at her refusal to shake his hand, The Independent reported.

Sakka preferred to greet men by putting her hand on her heart while bowing.

After the male colleague took offense at her behavior, Sakka was summoned to a meeting with the school's principal and told she must abide by its "core values" if she didn't want to lose her job.

Lidijia Münchmeyer, principal of Kunskapsskolan, the independent school group in Helsingborg, said the man felt “tremendously discriminated against,” reported Swedish newspaper Expressen.

"If there is anyone who has been discriminated against and mistreated here, it is the male employee," she said.

Münchmeyer said the issue wasn't Sakka's religious beliefs, but that she chose to greet men and women differently. “The school doesn’t differentiate between people or treat them differently. That’s what we anticipate from our students, which is why the staff is expected to do likewise,” she added.

Sakka left her job at the school shortly afterward and made a formal complaint to Sweden's Equality Ombudsman.

Speaking to The Local Sweden
, she said it was the first time anyone had challenged her refusal to shake hands, adding that she couldn't see herself returning to the school.

“It’s a special school for me because I was a student there. But I don’t think I can see a way back there now,” she said.

Hand-shaking has been heavily debated in Sweden in recent months, after a similar case in which a Muslim city councillor refused to shake hands with a female journalist and was forced to resign, reported The Independent.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven even took a stand on the issue, saying people should “shake hands with both women and men.”

The issue has caused controversy in Switzerland this year, too. In April, a Swiss school ruled that a group of Muslim boys would be exempt from shaking hands with female teachers because of their religious beliefs, igniting a heated debate in the country.
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