GUESTVIEW: Out of our hair and away from our pants!

August 20, 2009

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sarah Sayeed is a Program Associate at the Interfaith Center of New York and a board member of Women In Islam, Inc.burkiniBy Sarah SayeedAs an American Muslim woman who adheres to religious guidelines on modest dress, I find it ironic that such remarkably different nations as Sudan and France seem similarly preoccupied with legislating Muslim women’s dress.   The Sudanese government recently arrested and whipped women, including Christian women, for wearing trousers.  The French banned a woman wearing a head-to-toe Muslim bathing suit (a “burkini”) from entering a town pool.

(Photo: Australian lifeguard Mecca Laalaa in her burkini, 13 Jan 2007/Tim Wimborne)

Even if we were to give credence to an argument that pants are immodest for women, there is no injunction in the Quran or any example from Prophet Muhammad which demands corporeal punishment for “inappropriate” dress. Such a harsh practice completely contradicts the justice and compassion that Islam mandates.Likewise, the French ban on burkinis is outrageous.  Wearing the burkini has given me the freedom to enjoy water sports with my son; it has not limited me, but rather enhanced the quality of my life.  But now, I worry that other public pools will follow suit.  In recent years, France banned religious symbols in public schools, including the headscarf, and denied citizenship to a Muslim woman who wears a face veil.  Will this disturbing trend spread across other democratic nations?France and Sudan are miles apart geographically, politically, and culturally.   Yet both countries have imposed on the personal freedom of Muslim women to dress as they choose, and ultimately, to participate in the public sphere.  Sudan’s choice to impose corporeal punishment is far more egregious, relative to banning a woman from entering a pool.  For the average person, Sudan’s actions seem barbaric, but in a way, unsurprising because they conform to a prevailing stereotype about Islamic law as harsh and oppressive to women.But because French laws are enacted in a context which purports more openness, plurality and freedom, they could be more harmful to the cause of global freedom and democracy.  France perceives itself as a free country that allows its citizens to practice the religion of their choice.  France, like other Western European countries or the United States, would want Muslim nations to “look up to it,” to learn from its example how to separate religion and state.  However, the French ban on head covers, face covers, and now on pool attire suggests that religious freedom is bounded, even within a democratic context.volleyballIt is true that the ban on headscarves emerged out of a debate among French Muslims.  Specifically, one group of Muslims felt that their freedom of choice and conscience were imposed upon when other Muslims insulted and physically harassed girls who were not wearing a scarf.  The former turned to the government for assistance.  Out of its sense of responsibility to maintain public order, the government banned all religious symbols in public schools.  But preserving the freedom of conscience of one party need not come at the expense of freedom of religious practice of another.  There are other methods of resolving such conflicts, including prosecuting harassment and attacks as hate crimes, imposing strict penalties on perpetrators, and even community mediation.

(Photo: Palestinian girls play beach volleyball at Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, 20 \june 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

French authorities also voiced a concern that loose fitting swim gear that “can be worn in public may carry molecules and viruses that can be transmitted to other bathers.”  Even though most Muslim women are unlikely to wear the burkini anywhere else, surely a shower before entering the water and the chlorine of a public pool can be counted upon to take care of these dangerous “molecules and viruses!”  A deeper mistrust of Muslims emerges in Mayor Kelyor’s statement that to permit the burkini is to “go back in civilization.”  Muslim women’s practice of modesty poses a threat to French notions of progress just as Sudanese Muslim women’s choice to wear pants was also deemed threatening.Ultimately, authorities in Sudan and France conveyed a parallel message.  To democracy’s nay-sayers in the Muslim world, France communicated that those who practice Islam will be marginalized.  To Islam’s nay-sayers Sudan confirmed the interpretation that Islamic law is an oppressive and restrictive.  Both have infringed upon the rights of minority groups within their respective contexts.Governments and political movements worldwide, from Turkey to Afghanistan, from France to the U.K, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, all are inappropriately focused on controlling Muslim women’s dress. It is surprising that even within nations that uphold individual freedom, democracy and the separation of religion and state, governments seem to be anxious about Muslim women’s attire. Would governments ever legislate that men who wear beards may not become citizens and those who wear fitted pants should be whipped?  I say to these governments: get out of our hair, and stay away from our pants! Instead, what government must do is to protect the freedom of Muslim women to choose our dress.  Protecting choice guarantees human dignity and maintains fairness.  Ultimately, the preservation of democracy as well as the practice of Islam depends on it.———————The burkini (aka “burqini”), which first appeared in Australia, has also been banned in at least one Dutch swimming pool.Following is a Reuters video report on the recent “burkini ban” in France —

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

The world is not flat!!It is true and proven scientifically. Go on google maps and you can see it with your own eyes Sarah.The western civilization is faring better socially and economically not because they have a “better” religion, but because they take it with reserve and do not let it interfere with the peoples lives.Veils, Burkas and Burkinis are mere stupidity of patriarchaly dominated cultures. It has nothing to do with the religion. How come a muslim woman has to cover her face and a muslim man does not have to do the same thing???

Posted by Misha | Report as abusive

It appears the logic hear is impeccable – and the reality is that this is simply another form of religious oppression. The American Evangelical right routinely make the effort to oppress – often succeding (Drug Policy, etc.) the rest of American society. The French government is doing the same because of the fear of the Muslim religion.Freedom, as a concept and experience, is still an ideal that remains trampled and shattered (unless of course you have wealth… – which, thus, causes recogniztion that Justice is lying next to Freedom – bloody and torn…Greg

Posted by Greg Logan | Report as abusive

Madamyour article gives your point of view. Isnt it that the Koran first & foremost deals with the “inner” cleanliness of a true Muslim? The personal as well as social codes of conduct are essentially to only guide oneself towards a more unison with Allah (pbuH)?As is fashionable in post 911 world, most muslims (though thankfully not all) want to carve out an identity by invoking these codes of conduct. Historically even in Muslim lands, the current interpretations of Koran were never taken that way. Else we would never have had Arabian Nights, Arts-Music-Food-Science from Middle east. Even Haarems & Janaan-khaanaas of Sheikhs, and bygone Caliphs wouldnt have existed!The internal clash amongst the populace is self-identification, & quite similar to that of ultra-right Christians who believe that God indeed created the entire Univers in 6000 BC!To me it looks more and more that the Muslims want to “enjoy” the freedoms of open societes, possibilities & opportunities availed in more open countries.. but at the same time “show” that “they” are more pious & different & adherent to more stringent rules.Human mind is prone to temptations.. way forward is to fight them externally, or fight them internally & overcome them.. Guess the ignorance in this matter is the root cause of problem.There simply arent ANY pan-Islamic discussions held in this regard.. After the fundamentalists have voiced their opinion of Muslim-ness, now a days, everybody has become an expert on the religion & has his “what Muhammad actually meant in Koran was….” type of explaination. Failing to realise that someone else’s opinion also counts leads to intolerance.Why do you want to swim with Burkini in a public place? You say it gives you freedom. I ask: from what? Isnt your body-figure-curve seen by anyone even if you are in a Burkini? Then aint I tempted to extrapolate my imaginations & curiosities? How do you combat my imaginations? & doesnt it beat the entire “in-principle” argument of women being clad in clothes in the first place? So what have you as a true Muslim, achieved?Another thing: asrent there rapes, torture, humilation, law-suits, quarrels, etc.. happening within Islamic societies.. just as they happen elsewhere? Then why is it that such cases in western world happening to muslims, highlighted as a “Us versus them” issues?Guess Islam is undergoing a middle-ages-like self-identitiy crisis (being one of the younger of the big religions). Try to have a dialogue with your elder cousin-religions, instead of fighting a bloody out-of-court battle.Amen!

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

Let’s talk about turning the tables around. I remember vividly a time when Muslim women could not wait to remove their headscarves and burka as soon as they had cross the Muslim ruled airspace, for the more liberating European clothing. Did you know that the wearing of the veil is not even part of the Qu’ran but a semitic tradition imposed by men on women – nice freedom there. The subjugation of women by Muslim men is despicable and Islamist obsession with female sexuality is pathological. In nations were the Burka has to be worn, women are not allowed to leave their residence without a male family member, they are not allowed a college education and are certainly not allowed to drive or go to a swimming pool, burkini or not! Why then pick and choose, once immigrated to Europe or other western nation, which rule they are going to abide to? It’s complitely hypocritical on their part.In March 15 2002, 15 girls died inside their school in Mecca as a fire broke out as the morality police would not let them out of the building because they were not wearing their head-to-toe black dress and headscarves, had they been boys, today they would be alive. This is not an isolated incident, honor killings, beatings and lashings for not wearing the appropriate closing or for having been raped happen everyday and could fill the pages of several phone books.I am glad that nations like France are taking a stance on this issue and it is insane, absurd, to think for one minute that France marginalizes Muslim women when it is in fact Fundamentalist Islam who does so by subjugating them to a mere servant role.The fact is you don’t even need to wear a headscarf to be a good Muslim woman. The Qu’ran requires woman to dress modestly but not one reference to headscarf or burka. The predominantly Muslim nations of Turkey and Tunisia actually ban the wearing of headscarves and burkas in school and universities. Other fun fact in most Islamic legal systems, hijab is defined as a woman covering everything except her face and hands.In conclusion, I would say, yes let the Muslim woman choose her dress but with choice come consequences. If you desire to live in the constraint of fundamentalism then accept the constraint of not being able to live a western life, even if you reside there. If on the other hand you want to live a Western life but want to remain a good Muslim, simply dress modestly according to the standards of the nation you live in and not by the rule of antiquated men who want to control you, Allah will love you and embrace you just the same.

Posted by Kevin Rindal | Report as abusive

Hi,Your article on a particular religious faith on dresses are thought searching one.I also read the Glorious aspects of Muslim faith from my journalist friend.i can not understand,why,some governments and particular religious heads and its supporters objects to Muslim women dresses.A famous English author had to mention the following sentence often and often ,by beautiful ways:-There should be self discipline than self control.I have finished my college education with 35 girls from all religious faiths.Gents-10,Girls-35 in Honors Degree in a well known University college,in India.All were friends,but not masters.Wisdom will prevail at the earliest.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

HOW ABOUT ALL OF US TAKING UP THE MUSLIM DRESS CODE LADIES.? I AM SICK OF MEN DICTATING WHAT WOMEN WEAR! ITS NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS! WE DONT DICTATE A MANS WARDROBE! AND ANYWAY HOW MANY MEN ARE WOMENS DRESS DESIGNERS? AND- THEY MAKE A TON OF MONEY BOTH WAYS! WHO TOLD THEM THEY HAVE THE RIGHT.? ALL WOMEN OF ALL RELIGIONS….. STAnd up for each other! I kind of like the idea of being covered up, sure beats having to put up with impudent stares! and cheap comments. And what about those bad hair day’s I think all women have the right to wear what they themselves li ke be it the burka or the bikini. lets push back, ALL OF US!!!!!!!

Posted by jp | Report as abusive


Posted by JP | Report as abusive

Ah dress codes, religious and national. What place will this ultimately occupy in a brief history of humans, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves? Ideology and biology are often, and stupidly at odds. Burkinis and “Beatle boots”, I even got tossed from high school for a day for hair length and wearing bell-bottoms (1968). I may ramble a bit, but my point is:Although I believe in religious freedom, I personally believe that religion divides people and countries, while faith unites. Nationalism is another negative force in history, and it is my faithful prayer that someday we will overcome superstition based on imperfect human “prophetic” writings and recognize the shared biology and faith that makes us inextricably connected as this unique and beautiful form of life: humans.

Posted by Jeff May | Report as abusive

Didn’t win me over! DOWN WITH BURKAS AND ANY FORM OF OPRESSION. These women don’t know better. I highly doubt a woman even wrote this. This clothing idea was designed by men because of jealousy, or as they would put it, to “protect men’s delicate sensibilities”.

Posted by john | Report as abusive

It would seem that France is being regressive in it’s policies rather than progressive. How can a government say that skin being exposed while swimming is mandatory. It is like mandated T&A. The skimpiness of swim suits came as a result of not wanting to wear a burkini style swimsuit from the turn of the last century. During this period not only women but men also where required to wear almost a complete body covering swimsuit. Now France’s government is saying that you have to be as naked as possible in order to enjoy swimming. Is the French government saying that if all of the great grandparents of the present day French politicians wanted to go swimming and wore the swimsuit style of their day, because of modesty, they would not be allowed to do so. Maybe Islamic women should go to a library and find some swimsuit patterns from early 1900’s and wear them to the pools. There is a precedent for this type of swimsuit that may be a legal recourse to fight this idiotic law. PS Being an average man, I like the skimpy swimsuits on women.

Posted by terry | Report as abusive

Play by the rules of the country that you find yourself in by birth or through migration. Be it Sudan or France or what ever. (Even more important if one is a migrant.) Nothing intellectually difficult here, is there?

Posted by Jatin | Report as abusive

Hmm, I’m not understanding the viewpoints of some of the other comments, telling the author that the world is not flat, etc. To me this seems to be a calm and well-reasoned argument. I personally agree that enforced burkas and enforced modesty for women are patriarchal and not a part of a civilized society — and if you read, the author agrees with this also! But the point is that it is the women themselves that should get to choose – not the governments. Where does the French government, a supposedly free and democratic country, get off telling women what sorts of bathing suits they should wear? Should all people bath nude to protect us from microbes? If that were truly the concern, then children should be banned from public pools – I know how dirty my daughter gets!

Posted by Andrea | Report as abusive

Sarah, all these dress rules were for the Arabs of 1400 years ago. They are obsolete and irrelevant. Mohammad married a 9-year old child when he was 54 year old. Should we follow his example and commit such crimes against incent little girls?Also, the mountains are not nails to hold the earth in its place and the Sun does not sink into a swamp as the Quran teaches you. Even a small amount of logical thinking would do you lots of good.

Posted by Ex Iranian Muslim | Report as abusive

see its not about religion .but when u think as a woman u feel comfortable wearing a full swim suit because unlike some countries many countries which are traditionally bound dont like to expose themselves before others so that restricts their freedom,so when u go out to a beach u cant wear a bikini before your children or elders so i think the burkini that full swim suit helps a woman enjoy the water ,beaches .

Posted by human | Report as abusive

The issue of denial of citizenship was not over a Muslim woman wearing a face veil; It was her refusal to remove it for a photo ID card. She did not wish to comply with the standard rules of their society, so why should that society extend to her the privilege of citizenship?Similarly, I could claim that I belong to a religion that considers personal, First and Last Names to be vanity, and so choose to not go by a personal name. Should the government then be obligated to award me legal documents that leave all Name fields blank?!Freedom to practice a personal religion does not mean that rest of us have to accommodate an individual’s preferences.

Posted by Todd K | Report as abusive

If I went to the public pool in cutoffs and a T-shirt, they wouldn’t let me in. No street clothes! Them’s the rules. Muslims may think they’re special but aren’t we all special? If you want to wear something that the public pool bans, either swim in your own pool or go to the ocean.

Posted by linda | Report as abusive

When in Rome do as the Romans do. If you don’t like it go somewhere else.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

I agree with Sam. As a muslim, I see the brukini to be just as bad as bikini. If a muslim woman wants to be true to Islam teachings, she should not wear such outfit.On another level, Islam in my opinion is going through an identity crisis. Part of it comes for the different interpretations by different scholars. Islam is a holy relationship with God or Allah. The muslim society is so occupied with outer image and I hope that changes.

Posted by Max | Report as abusive

The point of this article is that regardless of whether you agree with these women’s beliefs and what they choose to wear, they should be free to wear what they are comfortable in. If you are not comfortable wearing a bikini whether it’s because of religious beliefs or personal choice then you should have the right to cover yourself up. And vice versa. Whether these women should be covering themselves up as a result of practicing Islam is a totally different issue. Don’t impose your beliefs on other whether you are a muslim or an atheist. You are the only person who can decide for yourself what is right and wrong.

Posted by Yanna | Report as abusive

Choice. Read it again, CHOICE. it is assumed that in western democracies we have choice. Which means I can choose to wear a thong or I can choose to wear a burkini. Everyone waxing poetically about oppression to women and exorting them to become “western” by showing a lot of skin are oppressor themselves. A true western enlightened society has choice as the operative word. This means I can either show skin if I want to or I can cover it up if I want to. MY CHOICE NOT YOURS!!!!! So everyone mind your own business and how I dress is ONLY MY CONCERN…..that is if you agree that I should NOT an oppressed woman.

Posted by Carmen | Report as abusive

girls wear butka to attract attention during mating season … its in kuran written by allah … know the facts

Posted by akbar | Report as abusive

When in Rome, do as the Romans do !! If you want to live in France, live by their rules – period. Otherwise, go back to your countries where you ARE REQUIRED to cover yourself !!! How Hypocritical are these people !!!

Posted by Sandy | Report as abusive

(And God wants to pardon you, but those who follow desires want that you would be diverted into a great diversion. God wants to alleviate for you; and the human being was created weak.)1Work cite1: Quran. Chapter 4:27-28(Then I called to them openly.10 then I announced to them, and I spoke to them in secret. and I said: Seek forgiveness from your Lord, for He was forgiving. He sends the sky to you abundantly. And He provides you with money and children, and He makes for you gardens, and He makes for you rivers. Why do you not seek God humbly while He created you in stages? Did you not see how God created seven heavens in layers? And He made the moon to illuminate in them, and He made the sun to be a lamp? And God made you grow from the earth as plants. Then He returns you to it, and He brings you out totally? And God made the land for you as a plain. So that you may seek in it ways and paths?) 2Work cite2: Quran. Chapter 71:10-22

Posted by Rachid | Report as abusive

I am an agonistic (one who cannot make up their mind with religion and needs hard evidence to decide on any subject) believer who also has a tethered spinal cord. I considered wearing those outfits that now I know are called burqini because of the extra warmth they would give me for my health issues. My back causes me to be cold when it is really warm out. Unfortunately society critizes and everything, so i choose not to go swimming because I don’t want to be cold.

Posted by Katie | Report as abusive

Terry, the claim made at the French pool has nothing to do with modesty. The regulation is that, since swimming in a public pool involves public health issues, no one can swim in this pool unless wearing dedicated bathing gear. However modestly you dress, you have to recognize that there are others in the pool with exposed skin that could, in theory, be susceptible to transmission of micro-organisms. For this reason, you can’t go swimming in any sort of street clothes, including cut-off jeans or boxers (caleçons).The proper question is not whether the law bans modesty (it clearly doesn’t). The proper question is whether banning the “burkini” is a proper application of this law, and whether reasonable accommodations might suffice to allow its use (as the author points out, a pre-swim shower would suffice).I think that the authorities got the issue wrong, but it’s not obvious that they were acting out of malice towards muslims, and it’s clear that the issue has NOTHING to do with insisting that “you must be as naked as possible” to swim.

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

To JatinFreedom is freedom is freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to wear the clothes that I choose. Either France is free or unfree. Which is it?

Posted by Juri | Report as abusive

I’m so tired of religion. Who cares about any of this? I know I sure don’t care one way or the other what anybody wears. I think it’s high time we all grow up and get rid of our imaginary friends. All religion does is divide people based on supernatural nonsense.

Posted by Tired of religion | Report as abusive

Being half-French and having grown up there, I wanted to make something clear about French public pools.Most french pools (and in my experience all the public ones I’ve been to) are much more vigilant about enforcing their rules then Americans may be accustomed to. It is not unheard of to be kicked out of a pool for failing to shower and most public pools will have a shower room that you have to go through to get poolside.Another common regulation is that you have to wear a swim cap and a one piece or a speedo if you are a male. I remember once I wore a pair of board shorts to a pool only to be told that I wouldn’t be allowed to swim in that. The attendant then offered to lend me a pair of speedos from the lost and found to my astonishment.Although this is only one part of this whole debate, I just wanted to bring to light and I doubt that the lady was kicked out exclusively for religious intolerance. France is France, and when it comes to pools they don’t play!

Posted by Loic | Report as abusive

Sorry read the news and see the blood baths – keeping any form of Islam out of civilized cultures is purely self preservation; falling into the dark ages. Nothing bugs me more than those that leave their repressive countries but drag the same culture to the freedom loving civilized countries that they run to.

Posted by Griff | Report as abusive

Let me comment on my last post (tired of religion) as maybe that was too harsh considering where I am posting. A religion is an opinion no different from a favorite sports team. The fact that there is a need for ‘Freedom of Religion’ speaks volumes for the nature of the issue. Ever wonder why there is no ‘Freedom of taste in paint’? No other issue can cause people to judge someone else so quickly and strongly. Nobody should be treated harshly or, maybe more importantly, gentley becasue of their religious views. Abide by the laws of where you live. If your religious views clash with the laws of the country you live in… move. Don’t get me wrong though I don’t agree with what France is doing. This is going too far. If a woman cannot think for herself then that is her problem you should not force anybody to “become liberated”.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

It’s funny that in countries where they are a minority, Muslims keep demanding special rights under the pretense of liberty and equality, because Islam is the exact contrary of that, as is very visible in Muslim countries.Liberty? In Islam, no liberty of cult (apostasy is punishable by death), no liberty of thought (blasphemy is punishable by death), no sexual liberty (sex out of marriage is punishable by whipping and homosexuality is punishable by… yeah, you got it).Equality? In Islam, women don’t have the same rights as men, Muslims don’t have the same rights as non-Muslims, and among non-Muslims, monotheists don’t have the same rights as polytheists and atheists.And Muslims give others lessons of democracy???

Posted by ohcomeon | Report as abusive

@THOSE BEACH OUTFITS IN THE PICTURES ARE SO CUUUUUUTE! LETS GET SOME OF THOSE IN OUR SHOPS! I’D WEAR ONE, IN A HEARTBEAT. THEY ARE COLOREFUL, MODEST, AND COMFORTABLE. THOSE LADIES LOOK NICE!- Posted by JPDear JP or anyone who cares:I agree that buquani looks so CUUUUUUTE but does that not defeat the purpose, i.e., not to invite men looking at a woman due to provocative dress. A bikini in a Muslim nation will attract men and in the west, so cute burqani does the same job. It is all in the head. Flexibility is needed. No one will pay attention to that girl if she is wearing bikini but will sure do because so different and so CUUUUUTE burquni.ON Muslim men: is there not a traditional dress for them. why they don;t wear head scarfs the way they do in the middle east. Because they are men and Muslim men will make you wear all head to toe dress.I can understand the cultural gap hindering women wearing bikini but this one is imposed by Muslim men based on “Islam”

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

“Though not wear butka shall perish in the stink realm of helm burkini is a must most important in any corporate meeting”1: Quran -by allah hu akbar. Chapter 4:29-29

Posted by akbar | Report as abusive

I’m really tired of this stupid religious clothing crap. If you’re in a swimming pool, wear swimming attire, not street clothes. God does not care what you wear while swimming, playing volleyball, etc. This is just a way for these people to draw negative attention to themselves. And yes, there is no reason to wear full coverings ever, especially these days with all of the suicide bombings, etc. that happen every day. If I walked into a bank with my head covered, I’d be shot by the guards, as it should be.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Unlike countries like England, India and US, the French should continue to work hard to liberate the subjugated women. All of Saudi and Iranian women wear a scarf/ cloak because simply their govts force them to do so. Women in Malaysia, India and Jordan don’t (the ones who do wear them are forced by the families).No individual wants live covering face and head, religion or not. The families aren’t throwing out their wives and daughters in the street just because they don’t comply with scarf/veil rule. As in the case of school girls who per law don’t wear scarves in France. What a godsent gift to those French school girls.Now, a miniscule number those who want to do that voluntarily can sacrifice a bit to save their sisters from oppression. These so called voluntary compliance unwittingly strengthening the male chauvinism and thus fundamentalism. For a larger noble cause, these ladies can forgo a bit of their ‘freedom’ just so that many million others could gain theirs. If they are really honorable with their freedom fight, they should stop this malicious propaganda(that its their freewill that they want to wear this attire on their own). It reminds me an Indian saying ‘women are womens worst enemies’. Its dubious that for their so called freedom they are fatally compromising a noble cause ie., liberating oppressed women. Where is their honor, freedom spirit and compassion?French should keep liberating its people regardless of religion. Appeasement of these fanatic mullahs will only hurt their women further and eventually everyone. In the false pretext of freedom of some, one simply can not ignore the elephant in the room ie., oppression. Thats what Indian Govt is doing now- by having a separate muslim personal law. To appease some mullahs and other nuts they are encouraging oppression of muslim women. In India, all muslims, for that matter in other muslim nations, do adore their bollywood muslim heroes and heroines (like everybody else, don’t get me wrong) who dance, wine and dine and do indulge in not so moral conduct. Chastity is due to lack of opportunity said GBShaw, a life long bachelor. Get it. France you are the best.

Posted by Azad (Freedom) | Report as abusive

I’m sorry. I just don’t get it! How does muslim women wearing Burqinis harm anyone? What are we afraid of?

Posted by Ruth | Report as abusive

Firstly may I congratulate you on the choice of photo to accompany this article. It clearly shows that not all is gloom and doom in Gaza and if girls are velleyballing there will also be boys footballing, basketballing… and vice versa. Good news from Gaza.I recall reading at the height of the burkini saga that the French objection was for the benefit of the swimmers’ own health, not for any viral or bacterial epidemy to the environment. Should a fully clothed swimmer get into difficulty in water, the sodden garments weight will not help him, they will pull him down. Moreover this restriction is only in public pools since the authorities are responsible for the bathers’ safety. Should a Muslim girl wear a burkini in an unguarded beach, I cannot think that anybody in France will object. The French ban I feel has not religious connotation of any kind.

Posted by Aharon | Report as abusive

I’m distressed as the next person at the dreadful persecution of women wearing burkinis; and I think this would be an excellent time to review some of the leading feminist texts of the Qur’an, as a reminder of how much Islam has to offer modern women:SOME QUR’ANIC TEXTS ABOUT WOMEN1. “Women are your fields: go, then into your fields whence you please” 2:223.2. “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superiorto the other; and because they spend their wealth to maintain them.Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Godhas guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience,admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Surely Godis high, supreme.” 4:343. “Wives of the Prophet! Those of you who clearly commit a lewd act shall be doubly punished. But those of you who obey God and apostle and do good works, shall be doubly recompensed; for them We have made a rich provision.Wives of the Prophets, you are not like other women. If you fear God, do not be too complaisant in your speech, lest the lecherous-hearted should lust after you. … Stay in your homes and do not display your finery as women used to do in the days of ignorance.” 33:30-334. “Prophet, we have made lawful for you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty; the daughters of your paternal and maternal uncles and of your paternal and maternal aunts who fled with you; and any believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet and whom the Prophet wishes to take in marriage. This privilege is yours alone being granted to no other believer” 33:505. “You may put off any of your wives you please and take to your bed any of them you please. Nor is it unlawful for you to receive any of those whom you have temporarily set aside” 33:516. “You must not speak ill of God’s apostle, nor shall you ever wed his wives after him; this would surely be a grave offense in the sight of God.” 33:537. “When Zayd divorced his wife, We gave her to you in marriage so that it shouldbecome legitimate for true believers to wed the wives of their adopted sons if they divorced them, God’s will must needs be done. No blame shall be attached to the Prophet for doing what is sanctioned for him by God.” 33:37-388. “If you are in doubt concerning those of your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting period shall be three months. The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated (i.e., child wives) “ 65:4.9. “Ask the unbelievers if it be true that God has daughters, while they themselves choose sons. Did we create angels females? … Would He choose daughters rather than sons? What has come over you that you judge do ill?” 37:149-15410.“Would they ascribe to God females who adorn themselves and are powerless in disputation?” 43:1811. As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed maidens for companions: a truly overflowing cup.” 78:3112. “ …bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before. Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?” 55:56Amazing stuff, no?Peter Heinegg

Posted by Peter Heinegg | Report as abusive

The Quran requires both Muslim men and women to dress modestly. Dress that reveals the body curvatures and features in open public places is not considered modest. Islam does not require women to cover their face or hide their identity. The face is to be kept uncovered during the annual Muslim pilgrimage of hajj, one of the most sacred of the rituals. The covering of the face by most Muslim women is cultural tradition and not a religious requirement.I agree with some of the commentators that regular baggy dress can be harmful as the wet clothes will weigh down the swimmer. If burkini is baggy and voluminous, then it should not be allowed in public swimming pools. Such individuals pose danger to themselves and those who are appointed for the public safety. The Islamic religious edicts are flexible and can be adapted to various situations only if the individual is willing to use common sense interpretation and keep cultural and tribal traditions separate from the true religious requirements.

Posted by Khalid | Report as abusive

Kudos Sarah, for a brilliant juxtaposition of cultures and defense of political and personal freedoms. I wish I was still in New York to learn from you. Your friend in peace and struggle – Dr. Sarah Ryan

Posted by Sarah Ryan | Report as abusive

Thanks, Sarah Sayeed, for starting this discussion. I thought it was a no-brainer that women should choose their own dress, but I see that readers are quite conflicted about it.I’m surprised by the number of writers who cannot imagine an educated, thinking woman choosing to cover herself. Such a choice is derided as a sign that “a woman cannot think for herself” or even as “malicious progaganda” by writers who probably think they respect women. Maybe folks need to get to know educated women who’ve made this choice before dismissing it all as ignorance.I’m also surprised by the number of people from “freedom loving civilized countries” who are ready to dictate what Muslim women should or should not wear. We’re offended by patriarchal societies that dictate women’s dress and behavior, yet we’re ok with Western societies that legislate conformity?A number of respondents say “Do as the Romans do”, i.e. follow the local restrictions wherever you are, i.e. you have no right to question. In the U.S., if someone passes a restriction we don’t like, we push back and argue about it. Isn’t that the model we prefer, rather than passive acceptance?Finally, some argue that the burkini issue is all about public health. Were head coverings in French schools banned because of public health? Is that why the Dutch said that women in burkinis could swim at separate times like other ‘special groups?’ I suspect it’s a monolithic fear of Islam behind this, with public health as the latest thinly ‘veiled’ excuse.Islam has as many variants as Christianity, Judaism and nonbelief. If we can’t respect that complexity, we end up trying to “exclude all forms” or, almost as bad, dividing Muslims between ‘ignorant’ and ‘liberated.’ That’s a trap, and a disservice.

Posted by Wendy | Report as abusive

[…] costumes. As for the "burkini", I didn’t see it once, but if American Muslim Sarah Sayeed is to be believed, the outfit is becoming more and more popular worldwide. Some French councils […]

Posted by The burkini & the beach | Newpapers Collected | Report as abusive

Thank you for your lovely and enlightneing article. Fear breeds on ignorance. Please keep writing your wonde ful articles and hence, educate all of us. What does it matter what we wear or in many cases, not wear? I will never understand why can’t we understand and respect one another despite our garb, whatever it maybe. What happened to the old adage of NEVER “judging a book by it’s cover”. Brevity is the soul of wit and diversity is the soul of life.Thank you

Posted by Maura | Report as abusive

As long as can see women’s face, it shouldn’t be seen as a security risk, or demeaning to women (that has to feel has to cover oneself up so much, or embarrassed about about one’s body ). The real issue is the need for religions and secular society to feel more compatible and friendly towards each others interpretation of propriety! These are all reasons to support “Bob Larick’s” Holistic, Risk Management, Interfaith,Business,Security (& development) Alliance Institute; as an integral part of meaningful UN reform , and a local to global , Culture of Mutual Respect/Consideration and Goodwill, between “All God’s Children”.Don’t we all need a Salvation Agenda, to Achieve Sustainable, Human Security & Prosperity, in this world ( not just beyond)?

Posted by Bob Larick | Report as abusive

Well done Sarah – this was a balanced and thought provoking article

Posted by maureen | Report as abusive

Sarah, as you probably remember from your previous FaithWorld contribution (, I appreciate having your strong opinions here but don’t fully agree with all of them. Our main point of difference seems to be over whether freedom of religion is an absolute right or whether it has to be put in a wider social context of competing rights and duties.I see no problem with a woman wearing a burkini at the beach. But French municipal pools are quite strict on hygiene and effectively ban anything that the bather could come to the pool already wearing, thereby bringing in dirt from outside. Bathing caps are mandatory. Long baggy swimtrunks for men are also out as they could double as shorts worn on the way to the pool, something they wouldn’t do in a skimpy swimsuit.You write that “surely a shower before entering the water and the chlorine of a public pool can be counted upon to take care of these dangerous ‘molecules and viruses!’” French pools already have pre-swim showers and chlorine, but the officials who run them decided long before the burkini ever appeared on the scene that these were not enough to ensure cleanliness in the enclosed spaces for which they are legally responsible.I’m not saying that some officials are not prejudiced against Muslims and might not be more motivated by that prejudice than by any concern for hygiene. This certainly happens — as in that mayor’s comments about the burkini amounting to “going back in civilisation” — and it deserves to be highlighted and criticised. But I also know that I, as a non-Muslim male, am also constrained by what I can and cannot wear in a public pool here. Similar restrictions apply in other European countries — I first encountered them in Germany in 1972 when I was a student there and the few Muslims in town were mostly working men. Saying a real hygiene-based burkini ban (not a prejudiced one) amounts to a message that “those who practice Islam will be marginalized” does not tell me what message is sent by the long-standing hygiene-based ban on baggy shorts and uncapped hair for French non-Muslim men.In the post, you say “the French ban on head covers, face covers and now on pool attire suggests that religious freedom is bounded, even within a democratic context.” This suggests it somehow is not bounded elsewhere, for example in the U.S. But religious freedom — like all freedoms — is bounded in some way in all democratic countries, and rightfully so. Religious freedom should be allowed as far as possible, and we advocate that on this blog. But there inevitably are limits. No multifaith society can operate peacefully if each religious group has unlimited freedom. No democratic society can operate peacefully if any social group has unlimited freedom. The challenge is to allow as much freedom as possible without creating divisions in the society. This doesn’t mean existing regulations can’t be changed, but criticism of them has to refute the reasons behind them and not simply posit freedom of religion as an absolute right that, in cases of a clash, other society-wide rules and regulations must necessarily adapt to.I also find your conclusion questionable. You write: “what government must do is to protect the freedom of Muslim women to choose our dress. Protecting choice guarantees human dignity and maintains fairness. Ultimately, the preservation of democracy as well as the practice of Islam depends on it.” Unless it is an Islamic state, the government does not have a specific responsibility to protect Muslim women’s choices, only the choices of all citizens. And they must all be subject to certain limitations decided by the society, be they a ban on displaying intimate body parts in public or a ban on full facial veils in public. Although a state may decide to protect the specific choices of a specific minority, its democratic credentials do not depend on that. Indeed, one could argue that this approach might actually undermine democracy rather than strengthen it. And I wonder if the practice of Islam really does depend on state protection for specific women’s clothing choices that many Muslims do not think are necessary to be faithful to their religion.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Tom,Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.Re: the French pool and their hygiene concerns- I understand. The issue is that even if they are not motivated by prejudice, and intentions are good, the problem is that for Muslim women who cover, it is experienced as prejudicial. Reconciling that disconnect is important.I don’t think it is enough to say, “we are not discriminating” because we know from history that this doesn’t work– rather, if rules/laws explicitly infringe on someone’s freedom/religious choices, there should be concrete alternatives offered. In the past, the option has been segregation- and I am not sure that would work in this case, alongside the push to integrate. Some of those who practiced segregation in the US used scripture as well as practical reasoning to justify it—but it was still experienced as demeaning.It is like the mosque access issue for women- sometimes the argument is made based on religious reasoning that women aren’t required to do their Friday prayers at a mosque, so it is not required for mosques to provide space for Muslim women on Fridays. Other times, mosques say they don’t have space for Muslim women to pray on Fridays because they are overcrowded with men, and space is short. Both the religious reasoning and practical reasons may be true and may not be intended as discriminatory, but it is experienced as discriminatory and alienating.Alienated individuals result in a fractured community and ultimately social unrest….maybe that is something else to write further about. Also, while we can dissect the arguments for arguments’ sake and assume that the French aren’t being discriminatory against Muslim women, we know that in reality, societies and rule makers include those who are discriminatory. That is why I think it is important to reconcile the disconnect between what the intention is and what the recipients’ perceptions and experiences are of those rules/laws.An article could probably be written on interfaith/cross cultural perspectives on hygiene:) I don’t think that Muslim women would dare to wear their burkini on the bus to the pool– hmm at least I would not- unless there was absolutely no place to change on the other end! I am also genuinely curious about the scientific reasoning underlying the germs issue- is it really true that germs that are acquired on a bus cannot be adequately done away with using a shower and chlorine? If you have any more information on that, it would be important to know.Your statement, “But religious freedom — like all freedoms — is bounded in some way in all democratic countries, and rightfully so” makes a lot of sense. The problem is that when “Western” countries like the U.S. or France sell freedom to others, they never tell you that it is bounded– they say that they are “free” while the rest of the world is “not free.” In reality, all societies have relative freedom, including the West. We need to think about who gets to define the nature of that freedom and boundaries–How do the boundaries get negotiated over time, and as societies become increasingly multi/transcultural? This applies to all societies, whether Islamic or Western or Eastern.You are right to point out that a government is not required to respond to the concerns specifically of Muslim women, and yes, they do have a responsibility to protect the choices of all citizens. My assumption is that a Muslim woman is part of the group of citizens, and her rights must be protected because she is a citizen—not as some special group. You write that the limitations that we are subject to are decided on by society- yet again, my question is, who are the members of the society, and what is their role in determining the limitations? Who articulates the limitations, and who is ultimately heard by the state? For me personally, the practice of Islam is intimately bound up with the protection of choice- that is why I focused on Sudan’s practice as problematic. Given the plural nature of Muslim societies, if choice is not protected, we are at risk of violating religious principles of compassion and justice. I believe that states must prioritize which ethical principles underlie their laws, and I do hope that the priority will be compassion and preservation of choice.Thank you again.

Posted by Sarah Sayeed | Report as abusive

Sarah, thanks for your thoughtful answers. A few ideas in response:– You write that “it is important to reconcile the disconnect between what the intention is and what the recipients’ perceptions and experiences are of those rules/laws.” I agree 100% and don’t have to tell you that this is one of the things that interfaith and intercultural dialogue is there for. We have to be optimistic enough to believe that rational people can find a solution.– You ask “who gets to define the nature of freedom and boundaries” in society. Not to be flip, but society itself does. That is, the people and groups in a society roughly agree on what has to be done to promote the common good. When people and groups in the society change, the society has to be open to change along with them. But there is no formula for how to change and how much change is needed. This can only be worked out in the public sphere.– on hygiene, I don’t have any scientific info on germs vs. showers and chlorine, but I can say the French don’t fully share the American enthusiasm for technical solutions (“better living through chemistry”) when they think a simpler one like a dress code can suffice. They do use chlorine in their pools, but not as much as in the U.S., and they don’t want to dump more in because it can be harmful to swimmers and the environment. I’m no expert on the details of public pool hygiene but French friends who swim regularly in public pools tell me this makes sense to them and using more chemicals does not.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

[…] Link: ld/2009/08/20/guestview-out-of-our-hair- and-away-from-our-pants/ […]

Posted by Out of Our Hair and Away from Our Pants! | ICNY Out of Our Hair and Away from Our Pants! | | Report as abusive