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German citizenship denied for refusal to shake woman's hand

October 17, 2020

The man aced the German naturalization test, but refused to shake hands with the female official handing over his citizenship. Despite claims he will not shake hands with men either, his citizenship has been rejected.

A handshake (file photo)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stein

A German court ruled on Friday that a Muslim man who refused to shake the hand of a woman should not receive German citizenship.

The 40-year-old Lebanese doctor, who came to Germany in 2002, said he refuses to shake women's hands for religious reasons.

The Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg (VGH) ruled that someone who rejects a handshake due to a "fundamentalist conception of culture and values" because they see women as "a danger of sexual temptation" was thereby rejecting "integration into German living conditions."

Promise to his wife

The doctor studied medicine in Germany and now works as a senior physician in a clinic. He applied for citizenship through naturalization in 2012, for which he signed a declaration of loyalty to the German constitution and against extremism. He passed the naturalization test with the best possible score. 

Read more: Denmark's handshake law for new citizens is 'un-Danish'

Nevertheless, he was not granted citizenship because he refused to shake hands with the responsible official when the naturalization certificate was handed over in 2015. The woman therefore withheld the certificate and rejected the application.

What is a "German Islam"?

He argued that he had promised his wife not to shake hands with another woman.

His petition against the ruling was unsuccessful before the Stuttgart Administrative Court and he appealed to the VGH. Following its decision Saturday, the court said that the man can appeal to the Federal Administrative Court due to the fundamental significance of the case.

Read more: Refused Berlin handshake: Religious freedom or sexism?

Handshakes 'deeply rooted' in German culture 

The VGH described a handshake as a common nonverbal greeting and farewell ritual, which are independent of the sex of the involved parties, adding that the practice goes back centuries.

The judge found that the handshake also has a legal meaning, in that it symbolizes the conclusion of a contract.

The handshake is therefore "deeply rooted in social, cultural and legal life, which shapes the way we live together," the judge said. 

The court found that anyone who refuses to shake hands on gender-specific grounds is in breach of the equality enshrined in the German constitution.

Read more: Religion no justification for not shaking teacher's hand, Swiss authorities rule

In addition, the man's refusal in this case had the effect of lending validity to a "Salafist perspective" on the social ramifications of relations between men and women. 

The court said that it made no difference that the man has now declared he will not shake hands with men either.

The man claimed he wanted to affirm the equality of men and women, but the court found that this was merely a tactical move.

The handshake ruling was also handed down despite health officials cautioning against handshaking right now due to the coronavirus pandemic. The judge said he was convinced that the practice would survive the pandemic.

aw/rs (dpa, AFP, epd)