Handshake refusal continues to stoke debate

Muslim maths examiner agrees with school administration that he will not shake hands with any students but that has only further angered some critics

Debate this weekend continued over the refusal of Youssef Minawi to shake hands with female students taking maths exams in the Jutland town of Horsens.

Minawi was the external examiner for oral maths exams being administered to the town’s upper-secondary and adult education students and declined to shake women’s hands due to his Muslim beliefs. When a young woman set to take one of the exams last week read a notice on the school website that the examiner would not shake the hands of female students. The woman complained to the school that she felt she was being discriminated against and would not receive a fair chance during the exam.

The school’s administration said it was too late to find a new examiner, and the Education Ministry told the school it was up to them to find a solution.

As a compromise, headteacher Liv Tind Hauch agreed with Minawi that he would not shake hands with anyone, male or female, and greet all students verbally only.

But that decision only stoked the outrage in some quarters.

Dansk Folkeparti integration spokesperson Martin Henriksen called it “totally idiotic”.

“If the solution reached is to not shake hands with anyone, then the headtacher should be replaced,” Henriksen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Henriksen called on the government to get involved and challenged it and opposition party Venstre to “stop dodging their responsibilities in the name of political correctness”.

The education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), said it was up to the school, and not the government, to set policy.

“It is the responsibility of the school administration to create a comfortable environment for students to take their exams,” she told Jyllands-Posten. “That obviously has not happened here.”

Antorini said she found it “strange” that Minawi would not shake hands with female students.

“We shake hands in Denmark,” she said.

Hauch declined comment on the matter except to say that it had been “blown out of proportion”.

Professor of religion Jens-André Herbener of Syddansk Universitet agreed with Hauch and said the fears expressed by female students that Minawi would not be fair with them were groundless.

“Personally, I think it is a tempest in a teacup,” he told Jyllands-Posten. “No one can make a real case concerning how he judged students during their exams.”

Herbener said the incident had nothing to do with discrimination against women, and that some Muslims of both sexes refuse to touch a person of the opposite sex who are not family members.

The equality and religion minister, Manu Sareen (Radikale), said the women should take their concerns to the state equality board, Ligebehandlingsnævnet.

University of Copenhagen law professor Kirsten Ketscher called it an open-and-shut case.

“Discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal,” she told Jyllands-Posten. “Religion cannot override the rights of others.”

Ketscher said an ethnically Danish examiner would not be allowed to refuse to shake hands with minority students, and that refusing to shake hands with women amounted to the same type of discrimination.

“The school is violating the rights of women,” she said.

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