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Muslim woman told she can’t swim fully covered

The Islamic style swimsuit, similar to the one worn by this woman, was deemed to be “unhygienic”. Photo: Giorgio Montersino

The Islamic style swimsuit, similar to the one worn by this woman, was deemed to be “unhygienic”. Photo: Giorgio Montersino

A Muslim woman claiming to have worn a “modest” full-body bathing suit at the Marsa Sports Club was told she could not swim in the pool wearing “unhygienic” clothes.

The Maltese woman, who asked to remain anonymous, feels the club discriminated against her on the basis of her religion by not allowing her to wear the Islamic bathing suit, a claim the club is vehemently denying.

“This is about equality. I felt very hurt. They told me that the suit I was wearing was just normal Muslim clothing and that I was being unhygienic. It’s offensive because I am a very clean person and simply wanted to have a swim with my children,” she said.

The incident happened some six weeks ago and the woman insisted she wore a burkini, a full-body suit made of similar materials to conventional swimwear.

Woman was not even an Arab, but Maltese
- Marsa Sports Club

It is more in keeping with the Islamic tradition of female skin coverage than Western alternatives. The burkini was popularised by celebrity television chef Nigella Lawson, who wore a black version on holiday in 2011.

The distraught woman told Times of Malta that while she had repeatedly attempted to explain the purpose of the Islamic bathing suit, the club management had not replied to her repeated e-mails.

“Eventually, I just terminated my membership and left... I wanted to be a member because I thought it would be a place where I would be accepted but it wasn’t the case at all,” she said.

Contacted for a reaction, club president Ralph Asciak said: “She swam in clothes. This burkini business, which is against our policy anyway, didn’t come into it.”

He said the burkini was not recognised by Sharia law.

Asked what type of clothes the woman was wearing, Mr Asciak replied: “What these Muslims wear; Muslim clothes, not a bathing suit.”

Mr Asciak said the club had other Muslim members who respected the rules and he questioned why she could not do the same.

He insisted that the club had done nothing wrong and was merely following its rules and policies – made clear to members upon joining – that appropriate swimwear had to be worn.

“Yesterday, there was a Muslim and his wife was swimming and you know what she was wearing: a European bathing suit.

“And she is a proper Muslim; she’s Libyan,” he said.

“The proper Muslims will tell you they follow people’s traditions and policies. Like when we go to Tripoli or wherever; if you go with your wife and she exposes some shoulder or some breast she will be stoned and arrested. This one is just trying to make herself a martyr or something,” he added.

Mr Asciak said the woman was “not even an Arab” but Maltese, further raising the question of why she would not wear a conventional bathing suit.

Apart from cancelling her membership, the woman also took her case to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affair Authority, which wrote to the club demanding a refund. The club sent the woman a cheque but she noted the compensation did not begin to make up for the emotional experience she endured.

“I haven’t even cashed the cheque. And I’m not that bothered. I know the way things happen in this country. But I didn’t expect this,” she said.

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