Ekeberg Primary School in Oslo has refused to prolong the contract of a Muslim fill-in teacher who refused to shake hands with his female colleagues for religious reasons, the daily newspaper Dagsavisen reported.
"Our female teachers experienced that he rejected their hands," former school Principal Bente Alfheim said.
According to Alfheim, the man informed the school about his religious convictions before receiving his job. Alfheim said that the school staff had made it clear that they didn't accept the practice of not shaking hands with women.
"We have always said it was a problem, we never said we accepted it. Nevertheless, we were still open to inclusion, though, and would give him an opportunity," Alfheim told national broadcaster NRK.
The man rejected the notion that he had been refusing to shake hands out of disrespect for women. He stressed that the idea was to "create fewer temptations," adding that he was following the teachings of the prophet.
The case has spurred polarizing reactions in Norwegian society. Oslo City Council leader, Raymond Johansen of the Labor Party, defended the school's decision, arguing that the refusal to shake hands "shouldn't happen in the Oslo municipality."
"You just cannot avoid shaking other people's hands because it is deemed unacceptable for religious reasons," Johansen told NRK.
Others, however, argued that the dismissal constituted a violation of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
"We have religious freedom in Norway," said Akhenaton Oddvar de Leon, the leader the Organization Against Public Discrimination (OMOD). "One could say that you don't get the job if your religious practice is an obstacle for the job itself, but this is not the case here," he said.
De Leon also drew parallels with the case of Metne Hodne, a coiffeur who was sentenced to a fine for refusing to serve a hijab-dressed client due to her convictions, earning herself the moniker "Nazi hairdresser" by the Norwegian press. Hodne subsequently filed a lawsuit for libel, but lost.
Equality and Non-Discrimination Ombudsperson Hanne Bjurstrøm said that society should be more open to other ways of greeting than handshaking.
"Of course, you should treat your colleagues with respect, but there are many ways of doing just that. For example, one can also look in the eye and give a nod, instead of shaking hands," Bjurstrøm told the newspaper Vårt Land. Nevertheless, she admitted that refusing to shake hands with parents and children will "almost always be incompatible with the Norwegian norm."
In recent years, there's been quite a number of similar "handshake rows" across Scandinavia, where both Muslim men and women have refused to shake hands with the opposite sex based on the prescriptions of Islam, which limit bodily contact. Senior Swedish Green Party member Yasri Khan, who had to step down following his refusal to shake hands with a female reporter, is arguably the most high-profile case.