- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Amana Siddiqi loved swimming as a child but gave it up as a teenager because her Muslim

faith required that she fully cover her body in public.

“At age 15, I started to cover, so I stopped going to public pools,” said Miss Siddiqi, 27, whose parents come from India and Pakistan. “Most of my friends stopped, too. They felt self-conscious.”

Then last summer Miss Siddiqi bought a specially made swimsuit that covers her body while allowing full motion — and went snorkeling and rode watercraft and slides while in Hawaii.

Muslim girls and women are increasingly participating in athletic activities, especially as second- and third-generation children of immigrants grow up surrounded by American influences. But doing so requires them to overcome a large obstacle: Islam’s emphasis on modest dress.

When it comes to water sports, the challenge can be even more difficult than in Muslim countries, where the sexes often are separated in pools and on beaches. America is predominantly coed, and increasingly, the norm is skimpy swimsuits.

Enter the new-and-improved all-body suit.

Today, about a dozen stores, based in the United States and abroad, sell swimwear to Muslim-American women, mostly through online catalogs.

A full suit can cost more than $100, with pants at about $60, shirts at $25 and water scarves and hoods about $15.

The material is high-tech. Synthetic combinations that include polyester, nylon and Lycra allow flexible movement in the water while not sticking to a woman’s body when she exits the pool — which could produce the opposite effect of modesty.

“We want to be modest, but we also want to be fashionable,” said Shereen Sabet, who last year founded Splashgear, an online swimwear store for Muslim women.

Miss Sabet, 36, a microbiologist at California State University, said she decided to get into the business while trying to reconcile the conflict between her Muslim faith and a love of scuba diving. She realized that many female Muslim friends avoided the water because of modesty concerns.

“Nothing in the Koran says women and men can’t swim or scuba dive together,” said Miss Sabet, whose parents are from Egypt. “It’s just a question of finding a solution.”

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