I am sure many remember this article from the Telegraph from 2009 describing how British swim centres are coming under Sharia law – all at taxpayers expense. I went back and read this piece again since it had been on my mind after taking my son to a swimming gala held by Swim Ulster. It reminded me of my times in Muslim majority countries where most things were gender segregated and what we would see as normal social interaction is virtually non-existent.
It also reminded me of a business meeting I had in Freetown Sierra Leone with a Lebanese businesswoman (dressed in Western clothing) refused to shake my hand when the meeting concluded. This surprised me because Muslim women that do not adhere to Islamic dress codes usually have no problems with shaking the hand of a man. I talked to the friend that introduced me (a Muslim himself) what the issue was and he just laughed and commented that she was torn between Islamic culture and western culture and felt the clothes were acceptable, i.e. no head covering, but the handshake was going too far.
When you travel you expect such things and even in the UK you expect it when you see a Muslim woman adhering to Muslim dress code. What you don’t expect in the UK, or in Europe, is that the Muslim dress code being imposed on non-Muslims in a public setting. We have the attitude that if a person wants to dress in a certain way go for it (if it is their own choice and not imposed on them by peer or family pressure). What we don’t expect in the UK is that publically funded facilities enforce Muslim dress code on anyone.
After all Sharia law is not the law of the land the last time I checked. Yet we see this increasingly more common and we must ask the question where does it stop? For example, am I going to be told that I can’t put ham in my children’s lunches because it would offend Muslim pupils? It is already happening in some parts of the UK and do we expect it to spread as the influence os Sharia law increases in the UK?
by Daniel Pipes
updated Jul 31, 2017A French publication reports on this recent development: “A swimming pool off-limits to men, with an exclusively female staff, and smoked windows. It’s not in Saudi Arabia but in France, in the fine town of Lille.” More interesting yet, this swimming pool is not a private concern but one of only four sponsored by the Lille municipality – which, by the way, has a woman mayor, Martine Aubry. “It’s a matter of modesty” explains a spokesman for the municipality, noting also that the women-only rules apply only during certain hours. A sign of things to come? (June 15, 2003)
Dec. 4, 2003 update: A half year later, the Lille swimming pool continues to provoke discussion and confusion. Agence France-Presse reports today Jean-Marc Ayrault, parliamentary head of the Socialist party and mayor of Nantes, saying that “the rule is mixing the sexes” in municipal facilities. But while he himself refused to accede to Muslim demands for sex-segregated sessions at the pools, he also refused to condemn the actions of the socialist mayor of Lille for permitting just that.
Dec. 12, 2003 update: The nearby town of Mons-en-Baroeul has ended the scheduled hours reserved for Muslim women in its municipal pool, in place since 1996. This decision was taken in September 2003, a result of the French national debate on “laïcism and the wearing of veils.”
|Sohad Sarhan, left, and Manal Elsay cover the windows at North Seattle’s Meadowbrook Pool before the “Muslim Sister Swim” begins.|
Aug. 14, 2005 update: Once a month on a Saturday, North Seattle’s Meadowbrook Pool hosts a “Muslim Sister Swim,” giving access only to women and children. The rental is paid for by the North Seattle Family Center. Stefan Sharkansky of the “Sound Politics” weblog did a bit of investigating and found that the North Seattle Family Center is “a unit of the Children’s Home Society, a non-profit that gets most of its money from various government sources.”
Sharkansky correctly points out that, as such, the center “should strictly comply with non-discrimination guidelines. Nevertheless, the Muslim Sister Swim is open exclusively to Muslims, no infidel women need apply. I asked a representative of the North Seattle Family Center to explain this, and she told me that it was to respect these immigrant women’s culture.”
Sharkansky concludes that “if there’s ever a reason for taxpayer dollars to be used to support an immigrant’s culture, it should be to support them in learning to shed whatever aspects of their culture are incompatible with American culture. The last thing we need to teach immigrants is to expect publicly-subsidized religious apartheid.” July 29, 2017 update: See “Seattle woman-only swims: No, it’s open to anyone female” for a major change.
|Dawn Elmezyen, right, and her daughter Melanie Willis, 12, get ready to swim at the Cook/Douglass Recreation Center by covering the windows.|
July 24, 2006 update: The Cook/Douglass Recreation Center pool at Rutgers University, a taxpayer-funded institution, has instituted Muslim women-only hours for two hours on Sundays. Swimmers pay $5 for each session, half of which goes to support the Noor-Ul-Iman School.
Dec. 9, 2006 update: The Thornton Heath Leisure Centre, a municipal facility in Croydon, a distant part of London, not only has women-only hours but also men-only hours. And, if that weren’t enough, Thornton Heath requires all swimmers during those gender-segregated hours to wear Muslim-style swimming gear. Yes, by decree of the Croydon Council, for two hours on Sunday afternoon swimming shorts that hide the navel and extend below the knee are de rigeur for men. And when it’s women’s hours, the swimming gear must cover from neck to ankle.
Some members responded furiously. “I turned up and saw a sign saying it was closing early for Muslim afternoon – I couldn’t believe it,” commented Daniel Foley, 44. “I think it is preposterous that a council should be encouraging this type of segregation over municipal facilities,” said Alex Craig, 34. “It seems the issue here is over modesty. Surely if Muslims want to swim then they should just turn up with their modest swimwear at the same time as everyone else. To make a special provision for them is just ridiculous and strikes me as imposing an ‘Us and them’ mentality which is wrong.”
In contrast, the Croydon Mosque thought Muslim-garb swimming sessions a grand idea. Its spokesman said: “Muslims are not allowed to show intimate parts of their body. This is non-negotiable. Muslims have as much right to go swimming as anyone else.” And a spokesman for Croydon Council said: “We are not giving preference to any one group but simply taking practical steps to create access to all.”
Apr. 17, 2008 update: So far, all the incidents have concerned keeping men and women apart; presumably, non-Muslims could swim in their gender-appropriate session. Now comes news from the Clissold Leisure Centre in Stoke Newington, East London, that a corporate lawyer, David Toube, and his 10-year-old son, Harry, were denied entrance to a pool because of not being Muslim. To their surprise, they had encountered the “men-only modesty session” taking place every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. at the municipal pool, which at least two websites advertise as being for Muslim men only. Toube recounts what happened when he turning up at 9 a.m. on April 13:
I arrived at the pool to discover that they were holding what staff described to me as “Muslim men-only swimming.” I asked whether my son and I could go as we were both male. I was told that the session was for Muslims only and that we could not be admitted. I asked to speak to the duty manager, who confirmed that this was the case. … I asked what would happen if I turned up and insisted I was Muslim. The manager suggested that they might ask the Muslims swimming if they minded my son and I swimming with them. If they didn’t object, we might be allowed in.
Clissold Leisure Centre later apologized. “Staff cannot ask your religion on entrance and you won’t be refused entry if you don’t appear to be Muslim.”
Nov. 12, 2008 update: Under pressure initiated by a Somali Muslim female immigrant, Lul Abdulle, the Portland, Oregon, municipality has agreed to set aside two men- and women-only hours each weekend at the Buckman Pool, complete with same-gender lifeguards. The sessions began in October. So far, however, the turnout has been small. The city is giving the program three to six months and then will assess it.
Jun. 22, 2009 update: Municipal swimming pools in Helsinki, Finland, have “Muslims-only” hours – but all are welcome. Helsingin Sanomat reports:
Teemu Raatikainen, the head of the Jakomäki public pool, says that Finns have also come to the pool during Muslims-only hours. He notes that it is not possible to check up on a customer’s religious affiliation. “We have not asked about it. We have trusted that customers know what times they are coming to.
The decision to reserve specific times for Muslim women was a controversial one in Jakomäki. “In principle, there is no impediment to common times for swimming. The woman’s religion is of no consequence. Islam teaches that a Muslim woman must not be naked in front of another woman”, says Pia Jardi of the Finnish Islamic Council. Finns are used to a different kind of modesty culture and these pool shifts make things easier on both sides. Following the rules is up to the individual. Islam gives the guidelines, that some people follow, and others do not.”
The initiative for hours reserved for Muslim women came from an association operating at the Jakomäki shopping centre seven years ago, and finally went before the Sports Department of the City of Helsinki. The reserved times have been very popular, although some problems have emerged. “A few fights between people of different nationalities have been reported in the showers.”
Aug. 16, 2009 update: Thornton Heath Leisure Centre is hardly unique in requiring Muslim-style swimming gear (see the Dec. 9, 2006 update, above); the Sunday Telegraph published a survey of British pools with such provisions.
- Scunthorpe Leisure Centre, North Lincolnshire: signs indicate that swimmers “must follow the required dress code for this session (T-shirts and shorts/leggings that cover below the knee).”
- Woodside Leisure Centre, Glasgow: a local mosque group organizes a men-only swimming session which requires suits that cover from navel to knee.
- Blackbird Leys Swimming Pool, Oxford: to encourage Muslim women to learn to swim, most participants at a women-only class wear “modest” outfits, though normal suits are permitted.
- Loxford School in Ilford, east London: at weekly sessions for Muslim men, “it is compulsory for the body to be covered between the navel and the knees. Anyone not adhering to the dress code or rules within the pool will not be allowed to swim.”
Labour MP Anne Cryer (West Yorkshire) asks the obvious question: “I can’t see why special clothing is needed for what is a single-sex session.”
The Muslim-only sessions at Thornton Heath prompted one Croydon resident, Alex Craig, 34, to comment that “it is preposterous that a council should be encouraging this type of segregation over municipal facilities. Surely if Muslims want to swim then they should just turn up with their modest swimwear at the same time as everyone else.”
A press officer at the Croydon council said that the wording on its website is wrong, that the modest dress code is a suggestion, not a requirement. Indeed, the website was subsequently changed to remove references to a dress code. In contrast, an official at Thornton Heath insisted that the dress code is compulsory.
Aug. 17, 2009 update: The Sunday Telegraph garnered so much attention that the Croydon councilfelt compelled to remove the notorious guidelines requiring that non-Muslim swimmers cover up at a public pool (“During special Muslim sessions, male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists”).
Of interest: The Croydon Mosque and Islamic Centre said it never asked for this regulation. According to Shuaib Yusaf, “If it was designated as a Muslim session to encourage Muslim women to come along, to that extent I could see a degree of merit in it.”
Nov. 13, 2009 update: This in from the Hague: “Municipality cancels separate swimming“:
The Islam Democrats in the Hague municipal council denounced the municipality decision to cancel separate swimming. The mayor and aldermen said that people should meet other other while exercising, also men and women. But the supporters of separate swimming, used mostly by Muslim women, said the decision was symbol-politics.
May 12, 2010 update: Tundra Tabloids reports that public Helsinki swimming pools offer lessons specifically for Muslim girls.
July 5, 2010 update: The city council in Walsall, England put a film over windows at the Darlaston Leisure Centre after Muslim women complained about being seen. Which action upset non-Muslims. One of them says the pool has now lost its “pleasant views and open air feel.” Another says she is angry at the “very high-handed” way the council dealt with the matter: “It had lovely views before, now it is like before I had my cataract operation done – a cloudy effect.”
|Clear glass panes at the lower end of the pool’s outer wall have been covered with a film to prevent onlookers from seeing in|
Sep. 16, 2010 update: Here’s something new – not Muslim getting special treatment but non-Muslims having to submit to the Shari’a in Australia’s Victoria State.
Families are being ordered to cover up before attending a public event to avoid offending Muslims during next year’s Ramadan. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has approved a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for a community event to be held at the Dandenong Oasis, a municipal pool. “Participants aged 10 and over must ensure their bodies are covered from waist to knee and the entire torso extending to the upper arms,” a request by Dandenong City Council and the YMCA states in an exemption application to the Equal Opportunities Act. “Participants must not wear transparent clothing.”
The request has been approved by VCAT and applies to a family event to be held at the pool next August. “The applicant intends this to be an event where people of all races and religions and ages may attend, use the Centre’s facilities and socialise together,” VCAT notes. “The holy month of Ramadan has a particular focus on families and the applicant wishes to encourage families to attend and socialise together with others. The minimum dress requirements are set having regard to the sensitivities of Muslims who wish to participate in the event.”
The ban on skimpy clothes will apply between 6.15 and 8.15pm on August 21 next year, a time when the pool is closed to the public and normally used by a Muslim women’s swimming group. The ban was yesterday compared by the Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke to a ban on thongs in a pub. “Matters such as this are not easy to resolve and require a balance to be achieved between competing rights and obligations,” she said. “Dress codes are not uncommon: eg singlets, jeans, thongs etc in pubs/hotels.”
Sherene Hassan, vice-president of the Islamic Society of Victoria, said she didn’t support the dress restrictions. “My preference would be that no dress code is stipulated,” Ms Hassan said. But Liberty Victoria said the ban was reasonable because the event was to be held out of hours. A spokeswoman for the City of Greater Dandenong said the ban would help Muslims feel part of the community.
Oct. 17, 2010 update: An entire class at the Borgtun school in Tromsø, Norway, must adapt to male-female segregated sports classes on account of a solitary Muslim student. The school administration took this step when the parents of a Muslim girl asked to exempt her from gym and swimming classes due to the family’s religious beliefs, choosing instead to separate boys and girls in these two classes for her grade level.
Nov. 16, 2011 update: Columbia Association, a municipal organization in the Baltimore, Md., area, has programmed woman-only swim times, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the Columbia Swim Center in the Wilde Lake Village Center, one of the 23 swimming pools it operates in Howard County. The Baltimore Sun article includes a round-up of other cases, one previously unknown to this blog: “New York City’s recreation and parks department offers a women-only swim time at the Metropolitan Recreation Center.
Apr. 6, 2013 update: Chris (who did not give his last name), 38 and a single father, signed his 9-year-old daughter for lessons in “Ultra Swim 1: Female class.” a nine-week course offered for free at the Dennis R. Timbrell Recreation Centre pool in Flemingdon Park (in the greater Toronto area). He learned on March 28 and again on April 4 that blinds would prevent him from watching her practice. When he protested, he was told this is for “religious reasons.” Chris related that he spoke to a staff member and “she told me that it’s because of Muslim women, that we’re not allowed to look at them or whatever.”
The city aquatics manager, Anne Jackson, indicated that the Timbrell pool also has a male-only swim course where only men can watch – no mothers allowed. She also said that nine pools in Toronto have female-only swim programs and all of them disallow fathers and other men from watching.
July 9, 2013 update: From swimming pools to tennis courts, the Shari’a advances step by step: Today we learn of women-only tennis sessions in Blackburn, England, though at private, not municipal courts. But must municipal courts be not far behind?
A women-only tennis morning has been launched in Blackburn. Women can play on the private outdoor courts, at Crosshill Tennis Club, Corporation Park, every Tuesday, at 10.30am. The privacy of the courts makes them suitable for Muslim women, director Waqar Hussain said, although everybody is welcome. He said: “The local women wanted something to do, and somewhere private, something without a car, and in the local area.”
Mr Hussain said he welcomed the debate on the clash between tennis rules and Islam. The Women’s Tennis Association rules said players should not wear sweatshirts, sweat pants, T-shirts, jeans, or cut-offs. … Mr Hussain said: “One or two members used to be very good and used to play in tracksuit bottoms and headscarves. This group is mums knocking a ball about, not doing much running, so they don’t necessarily need to dress up.”
Nov. 30, 2013 update: The provision of a men-only swim time at a municipal pool appears to have sufficed to provide legal cover for a women-only time in Tukwila, Washington State.
March 7, 2016 update: Special hours for women is one thing; destroying the possibility of swimming in public pools quite another. Ingrid Carlqvist documents the latter at “Sweden: Sexual Assaults at Swimming Pools.” The surge of illegal immigration to Sweden has led to young male asylum seekers turning public swimming pools “into ordeals of rape and sexual assault.” Carlqvist provides copious examples of these.
In addition, because of the Islamic ban on nudity, “young Muslim men refuse to take a shower before bathing, and keep their underwear on under their swim trunks,” leading to problems of hygiene in the pools. When they are told to take off their underwear, the Muslims sometime disobey. In one indoor park, Aq-va-kul, “youth gangs smashed the interior, threw objects in the water and threatened other patrons. Aq-va-kul was closed, and the pool was drained and cleaned of shattered glass. A few days later the pool was reopened, but it closed permanently to the public in 2015. Now the facility has been renovated, but is only open to competitive swimmers and swim clubs.”