Burkini Ban in Europe and Israel’s Model for Coexistence on the Beaches

Is it a wetsuit with a hoodie? Is it a hijab? A niqab? A chador? No! It is in fact a Burkini®! This trademark mashup of two words – Burqa and Bikini – describes a bathing suit that resembles neither the veiled headdress known as a burqa, nor the barely-existent, skimpy bikini. The concept birthed in Australia by Aheda Zanetti; the Burkini® was originally designed to be modest swimwear and sportswear for Islamic women. Zanetti, born in Lebanon and raised in Australia, first attempted to facilitate Muslim women in the outdoorsy water and sports culture of Australia by designing the Hijood® another portmanteau combining Hijab and Hood. The invention was successful and led to the trademark range that has become popular world-over – not only for Muslims and not only for women.

Since it first became known and worn in Australia and then further afield, the Burkini® has received praise and criticism alike. Earlier in 2016 in Regensburg, South-East Germany, a public swimming pool imposed a ban on the offending attire. But as far back as 2009 the garment made headline news when it was banned in certain parts of France. With the ban still in effect in many French towns today, an incident on August 24, 2016 has made waves all around the world and the Burkini® is once again in the news.   

It seems that French police made a Muslim bather on a public beach remove her Burkini® and then also fined her for defying the ban. According to the New York Times, ripples were heard and opinions were expressed in various places of the globe from Britain, North Africa, West Africa, Germany, Italy, Russia and the USA. Thoughts range from one extreme to another with outrage and disgust lobbed at the bather and at the ban and those enforcing the ban equally.

Not to be outdone, Israel too had a voice. Yasser Allayan, a Jerusalem resident was interviewed at a beach in Israel and he explained in Arabic, “In general in Israel, there’s no enforcement or restrictions on clothes.” Shams Al Duhaa Allayan, his daughter who has been swimming in a black and white hijab, continued, “This is personal freedom in what I want to wear. If I want to cover, why can’t I cover?” Shiran Rokban, a Jewish citizen of Israel opines, “I think it’s very funny that people think they are so liberal and open and can’t stand other religions and feelings of other people.”

Israel presents a good model for coexistence on the beaches with broad demographics of bathers all enjoying the Mediterranean beach together from little children in the buff, to bikini wearers and those in full hijab dress. The general consensus is that France could really learn from Israel. The Burkini® would be very popular locally among many bathers and for other outdoor activities if Israel didn’t already have their own options for modest outdoor and swimwear. Owners of SeaSecret, Kosher Casual and MarSea Modest for example say that France’s ban on the Burkini® and the ensuing furore has been wonderful for sales.