New Policy at the Pool: Swimwear Policies Amended to Accommodate Muslim Women

September 4, 2006

Source: Detroit Free Press

On September 4, 2006 the Detroit Free Press reported, "Jumanah Saadeh is your typical American teen: She digs rock, loves the TV show 'Lost' and shoots hoops with her friends. But as an observant Muslim, the 14-year-old Ann Arbor girl believes Islam requires her to cover her hair and body while in public -- even while swimming. So when her seventh-grade class took a field trip last summer to a public pool in Ypsilanti, Jumanah changed into long nylon pants, a full-sleeve, collared shirt, and kept on her Islamic headscarf. Moments after she entered the water in those clothes, a park supervisor admonished her for violating swimsuit policies that prohibit street clothes in pools. 'Hey you!' he barked at Jumanah. 'Come here! You can't swim in that.' Jumanah left the pool. But later -- urged on by her teacher, Muslim leaders and a civil rights attorney -- Jumanah persuaded Washtenaw County to change its policy this year to accommodate Muslim women who want to cover themselves fully while swimming in public pools. The new policy, which went into effect this summer, is the first of its kind in Michigan, and probably the country, according to national Muslim leaders. And it symbolizes how Islam is reshaping the culture of southeastern Michigan, home to a large Muslim population. 'I felt humiliated and disappointed because I was denied an opportunity to have fun with my friends just because I'm Muslim,' Jumanah said last week about her experience at Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti. Jumanah is one of a growing number of American-born Muslims in Michigan who are trying to balance Islam with the rituals of teenage life. For many Americans, public pools are not just a place to swim, but a place to showcase their bodies. That's frowned upon in Islam, which many Muslims say requires women to adhere to a modest dress code known as hijab -- a word that also often refers to the Islamic scarf that covers a woman's hair and neck."

See also: Islam, Women, Health