If you don’t know this story, let me recap. A Muslim father has complained that his daughter aged 5, was taken to mixed-sex swimming lessons against his wishes. Zainab attends a mixed-sex school in Nottingham where swimming lessons are inevitably taught together too, with male staff present as well. On the outskirts this story may seem a bit barmy.
The first thing I thought was, here we go again- Muslims making headlines for the wrong reasons! The girl is 5 years old, surely at that age it doesn’t really matter whether she is swimming with boys or whether there are male staff present. The father has threatened to take Zainab out of the school if the school does not agree to her missing the lessons. The schools position is that children have to participate in swimming unless the child does not want to. Parents do not have the right to take them out of swimming lessons.
My first thoughts were that is man this a bit of a loony and is giving the media another stick to beat us with. I was annoyed at the fact that this made the headlines in the first place. Isn’t it just an overprotective father going a bit far? It could be a father of any faith? Couldn’t it? The more I thought about it the more I realised that this may be more of a Muslim issue than I first thought, and at first glance the father may seem silly and extremist in his views but on analysing I find myself understanding his point of view.
I put myself in his shoes. Although I wouldn’t withdraw my daughter from swimming lessons at age 5, I wouldn’t be completely comfortable knowing that male staff are present when she is say 13. Why? I’m not too sure why, just makes me feel uncomfortable. I however wouldn’t mind if other 13 year old boys were present. It doesn’t mean I think all male adults are pedophiles, I just don’t want my 13 year old pubescent daughter exposing that much of herself in front of strangers. At 16? I would probably not be overjoyed about her having mixed swimming lessons.
I had a discussion with a radio presenter about this who asked me how I would tell my 11 year old daughter that she is not allowed to go swimming with boys. I said that I wouldn’t send her to mixed secondary school anyway and at 11 she wouldn’t ask, she would understand why I would say that, to which the Radio presenter said ‘because you’ve brainwashed her’ and then cut me off. Brainwashed?! I was furious!! How can you explain to someone who has not been brought up in a Islamic culture, that Muslim girls are brought up with a strong sense of modesty? Even from the tender age of 5. How? Well for example I remember when I was a child, I went over to my neighbours house to play. It was the heat of Summer and the girl next door was about the same age as me, about 7 or 8. Another girl from the next house was also over. They were completely naked! I found that very strange, even if you are playing in your own garden, why not wear something? I remember thinking, why aren’t they wearing underwear? I know it was hot, but I was surprised but they seemed to be indifferent, as were their parents. I knew this wasn’t really appropriate even at that age because my parents had always made a big deal about how you should be careful about showing certain parts of your body in public. It doesn’t mean they had me wearing a burkha, but short skirts were never encouraged. These thoughts were instilled in me from a young age and I certainly wouldn’t call it ‘brainwashing’. Another example-my 8 year old niece came downstairs wearing a very short dress when there was dinner party taking place at her home. Her mother said to her, could you go and put on tights or leggings with that please. Is this brainwashing? I would like to know which father would be happy with his 13,14 or15 year old daughter going out in a boob tube and mini skirt? By the time I was 15, I knew that these sorts of revealing clothes were not acceptable. I could dress up as much as I like but within the boundaries my parents had set over the years as I was growing up. I knew that if I went swimming I would have to behave in a modest way. My parents never actually said anything to me about wearing a swimming costume as I did go to a girls school so it wasn’t an issue. The point I’m trying to make is that even at the age of 2, I tell my daughter off for taking her trousers off because I want her to learn that in front of her father and brother it is not appropriate behaviour to strip off. I do like putting cute little clothes on her and will continue to do so until she is about 8, where she will really be aware of her own body and know the difference between right and wrong. This is not brainwashing, this is teaching modesty, decency and self-respect from an early age so that when your child is in secondary school, they will not question why you are asking them to dress in a certain manner. They will have that notion of modesty instilled within them.
Zainab’s dad is an over-protective father, but I think his wishes should be respected as swimming is not part of the compulsory national curriculum. I realise most non-Muslims may find this hard to swallow, but he is definitely not representative of all Muslim parents. I just hope I have given enough of an insight to show where this father may be coming from.