The Burkini: A Religious Symbol Or A Woman’s Right?


For years it was considered the height of indecency for a woman to display more than her ankles when at the beach. The Victorians were particularly fussy that way. Gradually, fashions and morals changed. Full swimsuits became the norm, then bikinis.

Over the last few decades the dangers of skin cancer, from exposure to the sun, have become more obvious. Doctors advise us to cover up while on the beach. Few of us take much heed, but nevertheless it’s good advice.

Today, in parts of Southern France, it’s suddenly become illegal to cover up while on the beach. This….


….is fine…

Not Allowed

…but this isn’t.

This woman was fined by French police and told to take off her shirt.

A debate is raging throughout France on whether ‘burkinis’, the Muslim version of a swimsuit covering so much of the body its modesty would even have raised the eyebrows of prudish Victorians, was acceptable on French beaches, or if it was a religious ’emblem’ banned under French law.

As the BBC reports today:

In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public

A 2004 law forbids the wearing of religious emblems in schools and colleges

The 1905 constitution aims to separate Church and state. It enshrines secularism in education but also guarantees the freedom of religion and freedom to exercise it. The original text made no reference to clothing.[1]

The ban on burkinis, or articles of clothing of a similar nature, was enacted by local mayors after the attack in Nice on Bastille Day that left eighty-five people dead.

French court rulings have overturned the bans, but the mayors say they’ll continue to enforce them in defiance of the higher legal authority.

It’s a difficult debate, given the sanctity of French secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. French children may not wear crosses or other Christian symbols in school, but the Constitution also protects the right of religious freedom.

It would seem the French mayors who are enforcing this ban have ignited a fiery debate that could threaten the very heart of the French Constitution itself.

[1] “France ‘burkini’: Mayors urged to heed court’s ruling” BBC, August 27th 2016

3 Replies to “The Burkini: A Religious Symbol Or A Woman’s Right?”

  1. Thoughts: I don’t get the reasoning behind it all. The murders on Bastille Day were horrendous, but where’s the connection to what Muslim women wear on the beach? If it were a matter of, say, carrying a weapon of some kind when spending time on the beach, it’d make sense. Religion, and custom, dictate limitations in the matter of clothing. These particular limitations do not harm others, nor offend them in any way (unless onlookers happen to be bigots).

    Christianity doesn’t dictate that crosses should be worn – that is a personal choice, so a school’s restriction of that choice, while pupils are in school, isn’t the same as restricting what can and cannot be worn on a beach – and, importantly, during a person’s own free time.

  2. Twilight – I believe the French mayors who concocted this regulation did so to appease a minority of French (or, indeed, foreign) people on the beaches who might be upset or enraged by the sight of Muslims following the Bastille Day slaughter. It is, of course, a ridiculous and half-baked reaction by those officials who should know better. Had there always been a ban on burkinis it may have been somewhat more acceptable (I personally am in favour of the French insistence on keeping religion in the home and off the streets), but this was not case.

    Sabina – yes, indeed. I anticipated a fiery debate, and I wasn’t wrong. I don’t think the officials responsible will be able to hold out for long against the French courts and those women who’ve been fined for non-compliance will be reimbursed, so it may all fizzle out quite soon. It makes for good cartoons, though, and it’s one in the eye for the extremists that Islamic women are being supported, rather than their prophet lambasted.

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