An American Christian woman told me a story with outrage in her voice. It went something like this:
A Muslim man, his son, his wife and two daughters bought a membership to a local gym. Several days a week, the family would come to the pool, but only the man and his son would swim. His wife and two daughters would sit on the bleachers, fully wrapped in their Muslim clothing and watch.
Then, one day the pool was empty except for this family. The man called his wife and daughters to come into the pool. They slipped their sandals off and happily jumped, fully clothed into the swimming pool. I can only imagine their delighted at finally being able to swim.
The lifeguard had a fit. “You can’t swim in your clothes!”
There ensued an argument between the father, the lifeguard and the manager of the pool. In the end, the man and his family were all thrown out.
The woman, who told me this story, was shocked at the rude behavior of the man and his insistence that his wife and daughters should be allowed to swim in their clothing.
I’ll admit, I shook my head in disbelief, not at the man whose actions seemed completely reasonable, but at the staff of the public pool.
Of course, we have our rules and our cultural norms. For some reason, in our culture, women are expected to wear skimpy, formfitting attire in public swimming pools. Muslim women, who follow Sharia law, absolutely can’t do that. Such action is tantamount to appearing naked in front of random men. That’s shameful!
We can object. We can stand by our rules and cultural expectations, or we can understand, adjust and welcome the strangers in our midst.
The St. Paul YMCA chose the latter option. They launched a swim class just for women. Now, some 25 Somali-American women and girls swim, clothed in appropriate Muslim-attire, free from the eyes of watching men.
Of course it’s not easy to welcome the stranger. Sometimes it takes creativity and sacrifice, but is it worth it? Are they worth it? Are we?