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MUSLIM

Muslim boys refuse to shake hands with female teachers

Male Muslim students will no longer have to shake hands with their female teachers, a school in northern Switzerland has said, a decision that caused an uproar in the country on Monday.

Muslim boys refuse to shake hands with female teachers
Photo: Broad Bean Media

A school in the northern municipality of Therwil, in the canton of Basel, reached the controversial decision after two male students, aged 14 and 15, 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 local Therwil council did not support the school's decision, “but will not intervene as (it) is the responsibility of the school to set the rules,” spokeswoman Monika Wyss told AFP in a statement.
   
The decision triggered an outcry across Switzerland with Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga insisting on Swiss public television on Monday that “shaking hands is part of our culture.”
   
Felix Mueri, who heads the parliamentary commission on science, education and culture, meanwhile described the custom to the 20Minuten news site as “a gesture of respect and good manners.”
   
Christoph Eymann, who heads the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, agreed, insisting: “We cannot tolerate that women in the public service are treated differently from men.”
   
Basel-Country canton authorities, who have the power to overturn the Therwil decision, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
   
But the canton's education chief Monica Gschwind told media she viewed the school's decision as “pragmatic” although “not a lasting solution”.
   
Muslim groups meanwhile decried the polemic around the issue.
   
“One would think that the continued existence of Switzerland's core values was at stake, when this particular case in fact involves just two high school students who have said they wish to greet their teacher in a different way than with a handshake,” the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said in a statement.
   
The group pointed out that “classical (Islamic) jurisprudence and the vast majority of contemporary legal scholars … assume a clear prohibition of this contact form (handshakes) between the sexes.”
   
The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (FIOS) however maintained that handshakes between men and women were “theologically premissable” and were common in some Muslim countries, insisting the issue should not be problematic in Switzerland.

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SCHOOLS

Why are primary school students in Switzerland not required to wear masks?

Schoolchildren in most of Switzerland have returned to school, and two more cantons will resume classes soon. But even though the number of coronavirus infections is surging, students in primary schools are not required to wear masks. Why?

Why are primary school students in Switzerland not required to wear masks?
No masks are required for younger students. Photo by AFP

Masks are not compulsory for younger students because, according to Swiss health authorities, children under 12 are not prone to being affected by Covid-19.

Unlike older adults with pre-existing medical conditions, “there are no groups vulnerable to the coronavirus infection among children”, The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) wrote on its website.

Covid-19 “is extremely rare in children and young people”, FOPH noted.

“So far, everything indicates that children are not transmitting the disease. Unlike the flu or other respiratory illnesses where children play a major role in the epidemic, with coronavirus it is different”, Daniel Koch, the former head of the FOPH’s infectious diseases unit, said in an interview with RTS television in May.

READ MORE: Masks or no masks? How some Swiss schools are re-opening this week

He added that based on all “serious and observational studies” children rarely get this disease”.

This stance has not been modified to this day.

However, two Swiss studies cast doubt on this claim. 

Research by the National COVID-19 Science Task Force found that the role of children in the transmission of this disease “remains highly uncertain”.

“We cannot currently draw firm conclusions about whether or not children can transmit the virus”, the report stated.

Another study, conducted by the Center for Emerging Viral Diseases, which is part of the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, concluded that “it would be naive not to consider children as transmitters”.

To date, 351 children under the age of nine have been tested positive for the coronavirus in Switzerland, FOPH figures show. 

But the real number may be higher, as not everyone has symptoms that warrant testing. 

An infant from the canton of Aargau died from the disease at the end of May.

He was infected with Covid-19 while in Macedonia and air-lifted to the Children's Hospital in Zurich for treatment. 

So should children in primary schools wear masks to contain infection?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), “children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks”. 

This means no masks for kindergarten classes.

For children 6 to 11, the decision should be based on several factors, including “whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides”.

But “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area”.

However, WHO advises parents and schools to “abide by local authorities on recommended practices in their area”.

 


 

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