Opening a pool

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?

3 thoughts on “Opening a pool

  1. Hello Kate,

    Your story made me smile.  Our family on vacation one year visited a waterpark.  The lazy river is my favorite  where a mom can relax!  As I was waiting for an empty float to jump on, along comes a Muslim woman dressed head to toe in a gown with a hijab.  I thought to myself, good for her, she is not missing out just because she cannot wear a swimsuit.  She was there with her husband and child.

    A little time later a friend of mine, strict Baptist, lamented on how she missed waterparks.  Her husband refused to take her and her 6 yr. old daughter because he said it is indecent for them to dress in swimsuits.  Waterparks were her favorite thing to do before getting saved.  I told her the story of the Muslim woman I saw.  I told her to go on line and find some modest swimwear and go.  Sadly, her husband never let her.  

    I didn’t want to insult my friend but I wanted to say, “don’t worry, men are not checking us 40 something women out, they are looking at the 20 yr. olds, but I refrained.  My concern would have been more for her husband’s eyes wandering than some man checking my friend out who has gotten out of shape.  Sometimes it is a means to control wives and that is just too bad that men do that.  The heart motive is the concern.  Why do we do these things?  What is our motivation?  If it is for the glory of God, then do it with humility–honoring Him who saved you.  If it is for control or pride?  Then shame on us.   

    In Christ, Kathleen Mart

    • What a strange story. I love the image of the woman in hijab playing her heart out. I remember seeing some Amish women, fully clothed, splashing in the waves on the Jersey shore. What fun. But a Baptist American woman needs her husband’s permission to go to a waterpark? Odd. Sad. Disconcerting. May God give her grace and him, peace!!!

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