'Burkini' Swimwear Dress Code Dropped

By Hazel Last edited 177 months ago

Last Updated 18 August 2009

'Burkini' Swimwear Dress Code Dropped

Image author's own
Non-Muslim, devout Muslim and moderate Muslim swimmers faced a bewildering situation at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre where religion, culture, ‘modesty’, integration, segregation and scheduling created a chlorinated headache. Special Muslim swimming sessions on weekends have upset just about everyone with a dress code for single sex sessions.

For men only sessions, all swimmers regardless of religious background had to be covered from navel to knee. For women only sessions, all swimmers needed to be covered from neck to ankle. Challenges arose as soon as the dress code was announced: was it based on modesty in mixed company? If yes, these sessions are single sex so why is dress code necessary? Why must non-Muslims and Muslims who don’t observe religious dress code follow these rules?

Providing single sex swimming sessions for devout Muslim women is fair, and scheduling women only sessions is a kind but not obligatory gesture on behalf of Thornton Heath leisure centre. Non-Muslim women may also appreciate segregated swimming. Same applies to Muslim men and their non-Muslim counterparts. Allowing devout Muslim women to wear a ‘burkini’ so that they may observe rules on modesty as set by their religion is also respectful (in France, the full length suits are banned).

However, expecting everyone else to follow suit crosses the line from respectful to oppressive and divisive. It sets devout Muslims observing dress code against moderate Muslims who don’t practice Islam the same way; it divides the non-Muslim community from the Muslim community even while trying to offer weekly sessions to integrate the two. It’s all rather confused, heavy-handed and generally botched in this public pool, and an effort to please everyone seems to have offended all. Thornton Heath leisure centre have now removed dress code rules from their website.

Should dress codes for single sex swimming sessions be banned or enforced? Discuss.