Fatima hurts her knee and needs to swim as a therapy. The problem is that even though there is a women-only class at the swimming pool, it is taught by a man (though he’s gay). Fun quote:
Rayyan: " A man cannot see us in a bathing suit, they are too revealing."
Swimming teacher: "Not revealing anything I’m interested in."
Rayyan initiates a petition for a female life guard and although it also gets support from many non-Muslims, it fails to get the necessary number of signatures to make it pass. Fatima gets an "Islamic swim suit" (also called burquini) and takes the class with it, attracting (positive!) comments from the instructor and some other women.
The issue of modest swimwear is one faced by orthodox Jewish women in exactly the same way. So, how to deal with the problem? The other women in the swimming class are apparently ok with a male instructor. Is the correct way to go about the situation to demand a female instructor, i.e., inconvenience others? Or would it have been better from the start to go with the burquini, i.e., only inconvenience yourself? What about if most of the other people would actually prefer the "inconvenient" option (as some women remark when they sign the petition, not all of them are so comfortable with men seeing them in their bathing suits, but they put up with it)? There has been a law suit here about whether a Muslim girl has to participate in swimming classes (mandatory at most schools). The final ruling was that yes, she has to participate, but she can wear a burquini. In principal I consider the ruling just (because after all, it’s a mandatory class and Muslim girls should learn how to swim, just like everybody else), but in this case I wonder why the classes have to be co-ed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to separate the genders and avoid the whole problem? Especially for teenagers? And even for adults, in my opinion having a male instructor for an all-female class is weird. Just as weird as having a female instructor for an all-male class would be. There are plenty of places where we should make statements about the equality of gender, but this is not it. But maybe I’m too biased to be objective on this issue.
There is a second question raised by wearing special swimwear. How do you balance being modest according to the rules of Islam or Judaism with being modest in the sense of "not standing out" in situations like these? When you are the only one wearing a burquini certainly everybody will look at you, whereas when you’d just wear a normal unremarkable bathing suit, nobody would look twice. But then again, how can you go into the building covered from head to toe and then just wear a bathing suit without feeling like a hypocrite? I guess every woman has to figure out the answer herself. Just as some encouragement, I own a burquini and have worn it to a public swimming pool. A few people gave me funny looks, but on the whole there hasn’t been an inordinate amount of staring even though I was the only one at the whole pool. So be brave and try it!