Denmark Passes Muslim-focused Law Requiring Handshakes in Citizenship Ceremonies

Denmark has passed a law stating individuals who take citizenship tests must shake hands during ceremonies, in a move seen as deliberately targeting religiously conservative Muslims.

The law, approved on Thursday by the country's right-wing coalition, states that from January 1, would-be citizens undergoing Denmark's naturalization process must perform the contact gesture with the presiding dignitary, such as the local mayor. Those who refuse would be denied citizenship.

muslim veil protest
Protestors attend an anti-face veil demonstration organised by the 'For Frihed' (For Freedom) group on August 1, 2018. Bax Lindhardt / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP

Read more: Muslim woman fined for wearing face veil in Denmark

The measure has been met with anger, with campaigners arguing it discriminates against conservative Muslims who do not shake hands with members of the opposite sex for religious reasons. Instead, such Muslims may prefer to place their hand on their chest. Some conservative Jewish people also follow a similar rule.

Gloves, which some Muslim women wear to conceal their skin, are also prohibited at citizenship ceremonies by the new law.

Martin Henriksen, the spokesman on immigration for the nationalist Danish People's Party who is an outspoken critic of Islam told The New York Times he hoped the law would create a domino-effect, leading to a ban on women wearing veils at citizenship ceremonies.

“If you arrive in Denmark, where it's custom to shake hands when you greet, if you don't do it it's disrespectful,” he told the newspaper.

“If one can't do something that simple and straightforward, there's no reason to become a Danish citizen."

The law was met with opposition since it was put forward in June. One opinion poll published in September showed 52 percent disagreed with the rule, The Guardian reported. And a number of mayors said they were refuse to enforce it.

Mayor Kasper Ejsing Olesen of the Danish town of Kerteminde told The Guardian in September: “It's absurd that the immigration minister thinks this is an important thing to spend time on.

“Shaking hands does not show if you are integrated or not. I think I will probably find an excuse and the deputy mayor will come to work that day.”

Claus Juul, senior legal adviser of Amnesty International Denmark, told Newsweek: "Amnesty finds that this procedure—the compulsory handshake—is an undue interference in the private life of people, and a disproportionate measure."

He argued the measure doesn't resolve "any real concern or objective or problem."

Juul highlighted the lengthy Danish citizenship process can take up to 26 months to complete, and includes background checks and an exam on Danish history and culture. He argued that after passing the revelant administrative and legislative measures, the citizenship ceremony is "a mere formality."

The decision is the latest to target Muslim populations in Denmark, as lawmakers ramp up anti-immigration rhetoric in a number of European nations.

In August, Denmark adopted a law similar to those in Belgium, Germany, Austria and France banning garments which cover the face in public. Shortly after, a 28-year-old woman subsequently became the first in the country to be fined for wearing a veil. Opponents have regarded such laws as an attack on the rights of Muslim women.

“If the intention of this law was to protect women's rights, it fails abjectly,” Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, told Reuters when the law was introduced.

“Instead, the law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing, making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.”

This article has been updated with comment from Claus Juul.