Sunday, January 21, 2007

Muslim Policewoman Refused to Shake Hands

Just three months after Alexander Basha's request to be transferred to another section of the police so he wouldn't have to guard Israel's embassy in London, a new police row is in the making in Great Britain: a Muslim policewoman refused to shake hands with Sir Ian Blair, head of the Metropolitan Police Service, because it was against her religious beliefs. Apparently Sir Ian Blair wasn't very amused.

The case is very clear for the policewoman though: she is a woman, and Sir Ian Blair is neither close family nor her husband, and therefore she refuses to touch him. In order not to spoil the ceremony for the others, the policewoman was granted her request, though Sir Ian Blair questioned whether it could be valid at all. The other question that pops up is how she'll be able to carry out her duties if she doesn't allow herself to have any physical contact with men.

A spokeswoman for the police has already said that the woman, described as a «non-Asian Muslim» and wearing a hijab-uniform on the ceremony, will have to do her job properly if she wants to stay with the force. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Police Service has started an inquiry into what really happened and what the consequences will be. It's clear though that this sets yet another precedent, but perhaps next time they'll be better prepared when they're suddenly confronted once again with multicultural society during a ceremony.

In the meantime several Muslim leaders have already taken up the defense of the policewoman. Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission is one of them. He confirms that women should try to avoid all physical contact with men, whenever possible. However, in the context of their job, this should not lead to any problems. According to him the problem is rather one of cultural and religious ignorance and misunderstanding.
In fact, the woman confirmed that she'll put her duty as a policewoman before her religion, but it remains to be seen what will happen the day she'll have to arrest a man. Massoud Shadjareh added to his comments that shaking hands doesn't make or break a relationship, but if this is true, he should have explained too exactly what would be the problem if the woman had shaken hands with Sir Ian Blair. But I guess that just proves my cultural and religious ignorance.

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