Alsharifa.com Blog

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Muslim Women: To Swim, or Not To Swim?

are muslim women allowed to swim?

Are Muslim Women Allowed to Swim?

We, at alsharifa.com, oftentimes receive the question about why we would even make Islamic, or Sharia, Swimsuits available; and whether such swimsuits should be allowed in Islam for women to use.  This is a very important question.  Alsharifa.com is a manufacturer, and not an authority on religion or issues of faith, we provide in this article some pointers to consider.  In no way should this article be considered a final word on this topic, nor the information should be construed as being alsharifa’s opinion on the matter.  Alsharifa has no stance on the issue and we do respect all opinions on the matter.  The information below is a collection of ideas that we came to learn about from our customers and friends.  Please add more in the comments section below.  This is a very important dialogue.  

The most commonly cited drive behind wanting to swim is the Sunnah of the prophet (pbuh) through the verified hadith: {Teach your children : Javelin throwing, Swimming, and Horse Riding .}  The hadith in Arabic uses the word “Awlad” which has the literal translation of children.  It did not talk about “boys” alone, so both men and women are included.   

Come to think about it, many of the early Sahaba Muslimahs took part in pilgrimage and war; crossing mountains, valleys, rivers, oases, and eventually seas, oceans, and continents as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula.  One would ask the very simple question:  how did those early Muslim women cross the waters? It is for certain that they must have learnt how to swim, to avoid dangers at least.  It is certain they did not have water-resistant clothing, but there must have been a protocol for moving around.  Learning to swim is seen as must, by direct inference.  

It was a sad period in the history of Indonesia and other Muslim countries when the Asian Tsunami hit a few years ago.  The BBC reported that four times more women died than men in Indonesia.  In some small villages only women and children died.  Swimming and experience with the waters can be one of the keys for surviving such events.  Most Indonesian men in the small villages and kampongs are fishermen who know very well how to swim and stay afloat.  As a disclaimer, there may be other reasons for the higher rate of death of women, for example, women looking for their children near their homes, refusing to leave the immediate residence areas – among other factors.  This higher loss in women will leave an impact that the entire society and families will suffer for many years to come in the affected areas.  

Imagine for a minute - and heaven forbid - that a similar calamity or Tsunami would hit a different Muslim country where most women do not know how to swim.  And there are countries in the Middle East and outside of it where most women are not swimmers.  

In Cairo, Egypt, the use of Islamic swimsuits have been on the rise for a simple reason.  Muslim women, regardless of religious devotion, used to wear Western style swimwear and were the subject of harassment by some male beach-goers.  Now with the availability of Islamic and full-cover swimsuits, women have the freedom to participate in watersports with modesty.  The same trend is seen amongst non-Muslims demanding for full-cover swimsuits.  

We were initially surprised when members of the local churches where we are located began purchasing swimsuits from us.  The demand for cover is there, regardless of faith.  Some people cover for religious reasons, others to keep a more flattering look in cases such as overweight or having an irregular body shape.  One of our customers Nora who purchased the Malibu swimsuit said “I think it’s important for a woman to be able to dress modestly and still look sporty.”  

On the theological side, many people have made statements about the topic of Islamic Swimwear.  Suad Saleh, Professor of Fiqh at al-Azhar University and the former Dean of the College of Islamic Studies opines that hitting the beaches to relax and getting relief from stress  is permissible as Islam is “deen-ul-waseeta”, which means it is a religion of moderation.  So one neither has to be too hard on oneself, nor the opposite extreme.    

On the other side of the spectrum, Pof. Mustapha Umara who is a member in the Higher Council For Islamic Affairs in Cairo, Egypt, has the opinion that woman is “awra” or “aurat” as a whole so she cannot wear short or tight clothing, or anything that shows the details of her body, whether at the beach or in public places.  The direct definition of Awra / Aurat is “something than cannot be exposed in public.”  

It is important to point out here that alsharifa, while designing our swimsuits, take into account maximizing coverage and preserving modesty – the Awra concept is taken into account.  This is highlighted in the addition of long tunics, modest roomy upper arm and thigh fabric cuts, buckles to secure tunic to pants, and clips at bottom of legs to tighten them to avoid exposure or control length from ground or ankle level.  

Last but not least, not all buyers of full-cover swimsuits use them for swimming, below is a quick rundown from customer feedback for some indirect applications:  

  1. Safety Measure by the Pool.  Some women purchase a full-cover swimsuit to stay by her children as they swim in public pools.  If there is an emergency where she needs to help her children, she can jump in while dressed in proper swim clothes.  Otherwise, local ordinances may deny her pool area access if she were not dressed properly.  For example, if she was wearing cotton that would absorb water.. or just imagine the alternative, jumping in dressed up in an abaya.  This alternative is unacceptable vis-a-vis the Awra concept and showing modesty, the abaya fabric will cling to her skin and show her awra.
  2. Medical Needs.  Some skin patients require full cover swimsuits sometimes just to be able to enjoy the pool,  skin cancer patients may require the same to walk by the beach; since the swimsuits are also UV-protective against harmful sun rays.  Seniors and patients with joint problems who are required to use water for walking or exercising may find the same swimsuits indispensable in lieu of traditional swimwear.
  3. General Exercise.  Whether you would like to exercise at the gym, do a tri-athalon or more, the same swimsuit can provide you with the coverage you need, along with the comfort and modesty of a tracksuit, if you do not have one readily available.  In addition the versatility that the Alsharifa garment provides will impress you.

To summarize, the arguments supporting the need for women to take up swimming far outweigh the calls for not swimming.  Most of the disagreements are not on the right to swim, or the what about swimming, but rather they are focused on the how and where.   The answer to these questions will be subjective and will differ by culture and location.  Some countries like Saudi Arabia offer women-only clubs where Awra concepts still apply between women.  In the US we have heard of many groups having women’s only hours at pools and fitness clubs.  Other initiatives in North Africa and Europe includes beach rentals for women-only.  Some families have no issues swimming in public pools in full cover swimsuits as they provide full cover and do not cling to skin.  The choice is yours, alsharifa provide the tools, it remains up to you on how and where to use them.

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2 Comments

  1. I agree with this article. I have purchase this swim suit ! I absolutely love it. My christian friend is intending to buy one for the same reasons of modesty and comfort ! I absolutely recommend this bathing suit to any woman who wishes to dress modestly but trendy at the beach / pool! Being able to purchase this bathing suit encourages a healthier lifestyle. It also gives me the opportunity to teach and swim with my children. I used to hate having to sit on the side of the pool while my husband and children had fun. I was never able to enjoy swim parties or even special vacations it felt like I am always missing out! We live right on the beach,its horrible to stare at the water and now to be able to go in and have fun, now with the bathing suit it opens the door to many options for me and my family for lots of fun! This Eid inshallah we r going to this awesome indoor swimming place for the weekend. My husband has always wanted to go but we have 4 children and I always reminded him how would he feel just sitting on the side watching! no more watching for me! I am so grateful to have the opportunity to wear these bathing suit s to be available and modest at the same time!

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