Muslim Women’s Swimwear at the University of California, Santa Cruz

By Julie Kimball and Tahrier Walid Sub Laban

SANTA CRUZ, California, March 23. THE following is an article submitted to from Julie Kimball and Tahrier Walid Sub Laban explaining the use of muslim swimwear by women at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Tahrier was dressed from head to toe in hajab, the standard Muslim dress that includes long shirt, pants and a scarf. It was the first class of spring quarter, 2006, at the Olympic-sized swim pool at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Tahrier approached me and asked to join my beginning swim class. I responded, "Of course." She then asked if she would be permitted to wear her traditional clothing, which covers all but her face and hands and conceals her curves, in accordance with her faith while learning to swim. I was momentarily taken aback. In my training I had learned that wearing clothing in water is synonymous with danger. I offered to lend her a wetsuit that would cover her body. She responded "No." How about a rash guard with her pants? "NO." She said that these options would be inappropriate because they would show her body figure. Tahrier insisted on wearing her self-chosen outfit, comprised of a long sleeve shirt and boot-legged pants of synthetic material, a cotton T-shirt that hung to mid-thigh, and a head scarf that covered all her hair. "Ok, let's try it."

Throughout the spring quarter, I taught Tahrier along with 16 other swim students the basic skills to accomplish the crawl and the backstroke. In the USA, the crawl dominates the swim workout. A beginning swim student often integrates a high-headed dog paddle with the crawl stroke. Inhalation is imminent. It takes a while for the lower head position and full body rotation to feel safe. We practiced positioning and rotation drills, side kicking drills, high elbow drills and breathing and floating drills, in order to master the crawl stroke. Tahrier diligently practiced these skills while wearing 10 pounds of wet clothing and struggling to keep her hair tucked beneath her scarf. She never gave up and she never missed a class.

It was well into the quarter when Tahrier mentioned that she was still swallowing water while swimming the crawl. Her concern was that it would be a problem later in the fall quarter if she were to swim during the celebration of Ramadan when Muslims are required not to eat or drink from first prayer at sunrise to fourth prayer at sunset. Until then, I had not realized how much she was struggling. I quickly concluded that the crawl was not yet appropriate for Tahrier and we redirected toward swimming more elementary backstroke and the breaststroke. In the elementary backstroke, she could easily breathe; her hair stayed tucked under her scarf and her clothing stayed more streamline to her body. In the breaststroke, we practiced the arm stroke to lift and breathe, a float to streamline her body and clothing, and then the whip kick to propel her forward. Within a few classes, Tahrier was breathing without swallowing water, keeping her clothing and hair in place, and moving steadily through the water. By the end of spring quarter, Tahrier was jumping off the three-meter high dive and swimming to the ladder with self-confidence, using a competent breaststroke technique while fully dressed.

What are the requirements for Muslim women's dress? Tahrier explains her intentions:

In the Quran, God states: "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their father… (Why do you dress like that Al-Muhajabah)" which means our appearance is not for society to judge and be apart of.

Modesty is an important quality, while thinking about a Muslim woman and her public appearance. Covering her body from head to toe is a statement that a woman's beauty is not for society to judge nor take part in. Tahrier says that by preferring to wear clothing, including swimwear, that is modest, she presents herself from inner beauty; personality, character and ethics, and not from her outward appearance. The hajab clothing is a message of personal modesty, respect and integrity.

At the beginning of fall quarter, 2006 Tahrier returned to swim class. The class continued with the basic swim skills, including, many laps of elementary backstroke and the three-step breaststroke. After a couple of weeks of classes, Tahrier mentioned that she and her friend, Thaleia found a web site where one could purchase Muslim women's swimwear. The site,, is based in Australia. I e-mailed the company and asked if we could product test the Muslim women's swimsuit since we had never before seen such a product and couldn't be sure that it would meet Tahrier's needs. Aheda, the owner of the company, called me at home, and she agreed for Tahrier to product test the suit. It eventually arrived in the mail. Tahrier was thrilled. The suit met all the criteria for an active Muslim woman to swim and to fulfill her code of modesty. It is a beautiful, light-weight suit that offers UV protection. Also, the suit covers her with a modest fit that doesn't show body form, nor can her hair fall out from under the head- scarf, which is sewn to the tunic. Tahrier feels many pounds lighter in the water, doesn't have to worry that her modest appearance is compromised, and can now swim the crawl and backstroke without struggle.

It had taken a full year for Tahrier to muster up the courage to ask me if she could join the Physical Education swim classes at UCSC. While traveling in the USA, some hotels would not allow Tahrier and her sisters to swim while wearing their clothing in the pools. This brought up several questions: Is swimming with clothing a liability in the USA? Are public pools welcoming and accessible to all swimmers regardless of appearances? Are public swim classes open to all students?

Tahrier is a junior at UCSC, studying the sciences in her resolve to become a doctor. She mentions, "The smiles and thanks I receive when I help or comfort someone during difficult times is unforgettable and most pleasing. This encourages me to continue my education so that I can be more effective in people's lives. Knowledge is power."

In the summer of 2007, she plans a medical internship with a doctor in Palestine. She says that from a very young age, she has enjoyed playing in water. She will continue to swim at UCSC, which helps her to relax and stay in shape while studying for her MCATs. She looks forward to learning to swim in the ocean without fear and then learn to surf.

Tahrier and I encourage all female swimmers who have a need for modesty to inquire into Muslim women's swimwear on the web. The Muslim women's swimsuit from Australia comes highly recommended. We encourage all girls and women to learn to swim.

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