By Farooq Sulehria
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Swedish Public Employment Centre (Arbetsfrmedlingen) has been ordered to pay 60,000 Swedish kroner to a Muslim citizen, Alen Malik Crnalic.
In 2006, Crnalic applied to be a trainee welder at a company in lmhult, in southern Sweden. During the interview, Crnalic, being an “active” Muslim, refused to shake hands with the company’s woman CEO. After the interview his application was turned down.
According to the CEO, the decision to reject Crnalic was not based on his way of greeting. But the CEO felt insulted by the way she was treated by Crnalic. ‘’I felt humiliated. He shook hands with everybody except me,” she told Swedish Television. Crnalic appealed the decision to the Public Employment Centre, which rejected his appeal. He than went to the Discrimination Ombudsman and the case ended up in court. In the courtroom the scales tipped in favour of Crnalic.
The court accepted Crnalic’s “right” not to shake hands with the woman for religious reasons and ruled that therefore his unemployment benefits should not have been cancelled.
Queen Sonja of Norway had an experience of confessional purity when she visited Oslo’s Islamic Cultural Centre last summer. The imam refused to shake her hand. In Holland, another country where this handshake issue has made headlines, the government decided to enlighten the country’s imams on Dutch values. The imams were motivated to join a course called the Netherlands and Islam: Intercultural Encounter and Integration.
On the completion of the course, Dutch integration and immigration minister Rita Verdonk went to award certificates to the course participants. When she extended her arm towards Imam Ahmad Salam for a handshake, he refused it. Ms Verdonk politely responded: ‘’I see we have a lot to talk about.’’ She is right. Taking the imam’s cue, Muslim women clerics refused to shake hands with male staff accompanying the minister. Like burqa, a handshake is fast becoming an issue. One keeps hearing about such incidents and the press keeps highlighting them.
However, such a decision by the Swedish court was unheard of before. The day this decision was announced, a visibly irritated Nalin Pegul, the head of the women’s wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party who is of Kurdish origin, was condemning it on TV channels. Ms Pegul invoked the Quran to prove that Islam does not forbid women’s shaking hands with men. She pointed out that while in some Muslim cultures women do shake hands with men, in others they don’t. In Pakistan, a society considered liberal compared to Afghan society, it is not common for men and women to shake hands. In Afghanistan it is.
We cannot use religion to resolve cultural issues. Shaking hands is about the social relations and cultural norms of a society. In the West it is justifiably considered an insult not to shake a woman’s hand, even in the name of religion, especially in situations like the one Crnalic created. It is tantamount to reducing the woman to an inferior status. By endorsing such actions, the Swedish court has set a dangerous precedent.
Burqa, handshakes, segregated schools and other issues like these are raised by a politically motivated extremist minority with links to Salafi groups in the Muslim world. Muslim immigrants cannot integrate themselves in their countries of adoption by appeasing this impossible-to-appease minority.
These extremists invoke human rights in case of bans on the burqa while they take refuge behind religion when it comes to men and women shaking hands. When it concerns the rights or religion of others, however, they don’t care a penny.
Farooq Sulehria is Stockholm-based independent journalist.