Muslim students in northern Switzerland must shake hands with women professors at the beginning and at end of every lesson, thus breaking the interpretation of the Koran that forbids physical contact between men and women who do not have a family relationship. If they refuse to do so, their parents may have to pay 4,500-euro fine. This is the decision taken by the authorities of the canton of Basel-Country: “Shaking Hands is a cultural tradition in Switzerland.”
This episode opens a few questions. Where is the limit of respect towards religions? Such as everyone’s right to live their faith? Where is the limit needed for coexistence in civil society? The Italian Constitution regulates this aspect in Article 19: “Everyone has the right to profess freely their own religious faith in any form, individual or in community, promote and practice their belief in private or public, provided that those rites do not clash with morals.
Religious freedom is thus fully recognized: there is total equivalence between different faiths; it follows that the same dignity is given also to every belief’s refusal. It is worth pointing out that the right in question is established erga omnes, i.e., for all people residing in the national territory, be they citizens or foreigners. The exercise of religion is limited by the observance of “morality”, i.e., behaviors respectful of public decency.
Yet, today the issue is broader, it does not concern only freedom of profession, but also that of relation; what once was considered “public decency” is interpreted at present as anything that might somehow disturb the established habits of the “hosting” people. As we can observe, reading comparatively the rules of Articles 19 and 20 of the Italian Constitution, along with Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, religious freedom and the aspects that constitute it is protected virtually the same way. Hence, the point here is not law, but reciprocity.
What is out of place in the relationship between some Islamic instances is that they claim to carry out religious observance in foreign contexts, but do not grant the same freedom of profession – in the form and manner prescribed by the single Faiths – in Muslim countries. Besides, immigration has awakened ancestral fears, putting governments and majority churches on alert. There is fear of being invaded by elements that are alien to European culture, a fact that gives input to unjustified xenophobic impulses. More and more often, we are faced with forms of intolerance that eventually lead to the criminalization of all minorities.
Obviously, conflict is not a solution, but neither depriving all peoples of their identities, traditions, and of their history is one. For now, I repeat, the right to reciprocity would be enough. The multiple faces of this right are already broadly applied in Western countries: that is, freedom of religion (professing any belief, both in private and in community, the freedom of not being forced to profess a specific religion or no religion at all, freedom of proselytizing), but in compliance with the rules the tradition of the host country dictates to whoever becomes its “citizen.” A compromise between secular and religious elements that may pave the way to more future openness between worlds that will have to be fully integrated over the centuries. Albeit preserving their own roots.