Farah Alhajeh refused to shake a job interviewer’s hand.
Farah Alhajeh refused to shake a job interviewer’s hand.

Woman denied job for refusing handshake awarded $6K compo

A MUSLIM woman who was booted from a job interview for refusing to shake a man's hand has been awarded $6000 in compensation.

Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job as an interpreter in the Swedish city of Uppsala when the 24-year-old told the interviewer she could not shake his hand for religious reasons, instead placing her hand over her heart.

The interview was cancelled and she was escorted from the office. "As soon as I got in the elevator, I started crying," she told Swedish newspaper SVT. "It had never happened to me before - it didn't feel good at all. It was awful."

Ms Alhajeh reported the incident to Sweden's discrimination ombudsman. It took her case to the labour court, which this week ruled the company had discriminated against her and ordered 40,000 kronor ($6000) compensation.

"The money was never important," she told SVT. "It didn't matter at all. The important thing for me was that it was right."

The company had argued it had a duty to treat everyone equally and could not allow a staff member to refuse a handshake based on gender.

The court found Ms Alhajeh was protected by the European Convention on Human Rights as her refusal to shake hands was on religious grounds.

The ombudsman said the decision took into account "the employer's interests, the individual's right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom".

Ms Alhajeh later told the BBC she believed it was important to "never give in". "I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden … and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I'm not hurting anyone," she said.

"In my country you cannot treat women and men differently. I respect that. That's why I don't have any physical contact with men or with women. I can live by the rules of my religion and also at the same time follow the rules of the country that I live in."

In 2016, Switzerland suspended the citizenship process for the family of two teenage Syrian brothers who refused to shake hands with their female teachers.

The same year, an Algerian woman was denied French citizenship for refusing to shake the hand of a male official in the ceremony.

Immigration and assimilation are hot-button issues in Sweden ahead of a general election on September 9, with the right-wing Sweden Democrats going up against the left-wing Social Democrat Party.

Over the last five years, an estimated 600,000 refugees from the Middle East and Africa have entered the Scandinavian country, which has a population of 10.2 million.

Earlier this week, more than 80 cars were torched by gangs of hooded youths in co-ordinated arson attacks across the country's second-largest city of Gothenburg, sparking outrage from politicians.

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