A female Muslim teacher refused to greet a Swedish father by shaking his hand at a parent-teacher meeting. According to the father, the lady referred to her religion, an argument he subsequently questioned in a letter to the principal, the news outlet Nyheter Idag reported.
According to the father, the Muslim teacher greeted his wife, but refused to shake hands with him due on religious grounds.
"I was completely dumbstruck. I thought this kind of thing doesn't happen in Sweden at a school which should be free from religion. I feel offended by her response. How can I trust her to be correct when she teaches my child at school?" the indignant dad wrote.
The principal later explained to the local newspaper Värnamo Nyheter that the teacher felt "saddened" by the father taking offense at her refusal to shake hands. According to the principal, the woman explained that she never meant to offend him and was simply following the demands of her religion, where skin contact between men and women outside wedlock is not permitted.
According to the principal, the father was perfectly happy with the conversation. By his own admission, he was most concerned that the same differential treatment was being given to the pupils. However, the teacher assured him that it was perfectly okay to take boys by the hand, because children are not affected by these rules.
The school's principal has stated that an ultimatum to force the lady to comply with Swedish rules has not even been considered. Consequently, no investigation will be conducted into the matter. The administrator also added that her main task was seeing that pupils get a decent education and ensuring good cooperation with parents. While claiming that the problem of handshakes was not on her agenda as a principal, she nevertheless admitted that she would welcome a common municipal policy on greetings.
Despite all seemingly "ending well," the incident sparked a hot debate on the freedom of religion in social media, with some Swedes interpreting the incident as a token of "Islamization."
"Freedom of religion is only heading in one direction. You Christians behave yourselves and shut up. Even the Swedish Church and the Archbishop support this thesis," user Ulla Alstermo wrote on Nyheter Idag's Facebook page.
"If you cannot keep your religion to yourself, you shouldn't work in a municipal school, she'd be better off looking for a job in a Muslim preschool. Municipal schools should be free from religion and politics," another user chipped in.
Yet another user ventured that he would stop greeting Muslims altogether to see what would happen.
In Sweden there has been a growing number of similar rows over handshaking in recent years, involving both Muslim men and women refusing follow the Western practice of shaking hands due to the prescriptions of Islam. The most high-profile case, however, involves former senior Green Party member Yasri Khan, who had to step down following the outcry caused by his refusal to shake hands with a female reporter.
In the absence of official statistics due to ethical concerns, the proportion of Muslims in Sweden was estimated at 8.1 percent of the country's population of 10 million, the highest in Scandinavia and one of the highest in the EU.