A public boys' school in Sydney has been accused of encouraging disrespect for women and kowtowing to religious minority groups with its decision to permit Muslim students to decline to shake hands with women for ­religious reasons.

The handshaking protocol, devised by the Hurstville Boys' Campus of Georges River College, after consulting with parents, students and staff, was tested recently at an awards ceremony, when women invited to present awards were told some students would not shake hands.

The practice is based on the ­ancient Islamic hadith: "It is better to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is not permissible to you." It has been endorsed by the NSW Education Department, which says it is up to school principals to assess the needs of their communities when implementing diversity policies.

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