To Wear or Not to Wear? That is the Question

To Wear or Not to Wear? That is the Question

Written by Therese Hirst

When Marks & Spencer launched its sharia compliant swimwear range earlier this year for Muslim women here in the UK and across its European outlets, it was met with a spark – excuse the pun – of curiosity and criticism putting the issue of female, Islamic-dress code, the issues of faith, morality and modesty firmly on the beach.

In her article on, Burka On the Beach: whose choice is it anyway? Safia Alfaris, a Muslim author and feminist, gets straight to the heart of the matter, stating,

“Having to be fully covered even while swimming is down to an attitude designed to control and manipulate Muslim women, and to ensure that they are always self-conscious. To ensure that they somehow feel inferior, that they can never be independent, and that if even a sliver of their flesh is seen, then they are committing a grave sin and that it is their own fault if men commit crimes against them because of it”.

The link between how much a woman covers her body and the question of sin and morality is not akin solely to the modern Muslim woman, not just in the West but across the Muslim world, struggling to adapt to modern society and different social mores.

Indeed, Christianity has toiled with the problem even since Jesus preached on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and challenged the strict Jewish religious establishment of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Jesus proclaimed that is is not what a person eats or what a person wears which makes them pious – good or bad – but what they are in their hearts – and, crucially how they treat other people – both Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel stories are full of instances where Jesus confronts the religious authorities and challenges the status quo; where literal adherence to strict Jewish Ritual Law is called into question. Emphasis instead was on the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law.

It was precisely this struggle between whether the early Christian Church would remain constrained by its Jewish roots, under James the Elder, in Jerusalem or whether it would venture out into the Roman world to embrace the philosophy of the Classical Greeks.

Burka on the Beach


Burka on the Beach

Image courtesy of Google

So too, down to more recent times: when I was a young girl, being modest and wearing clothing that covered your chest and knees, and arms was something that was expected – particularly when in church.

Within the Roman Catholic community, the covering of the head in church either with a hat or a veil, for a female, was obligatory. It wasn’t until Vatican 2 in 1965 that this requirement changed for a female.

Personally, it took me a very long time to shake off hat, veil – and gloves – as there was something indeed quite spiritual about worshipping my God as demurely as I could be – and I still struggle all these decades later.

Yet, hundreds of thousands of Christian girls would have confronted this very same moral dilemma, but the passing of time and changing attitudes clearly showed that it wasn’t what I – or they -wore on my head, or the length of my skirt that made me pure – but what I had in my heart and how I treated other people.

As for the first time my mother bought my sister and I a bikini when I was 14? Well, that is another tale! Suffice to say that I didn’t come from behind the towel for a very long time!


Muslim women, not only here in England, and across Europe but also across the Middle East are gently dipping their toes into the water – it is up to us who truly believe in the emancipation of all women to help them learn how to swim.

Mand S Uniform

courtesy of

Whatever your views on the fashion – and let’s be frank – it looks likes it belongs to a character in a sci-fi movie – the one good thing to come from this is the fact that at last, the battle lines are being rewritten in the sand between those of us who utterly object to the Muslim woman wearing the burka, which they deem is utterly at odds with English culture and is a visual expression of misogyny – and those who claim that it is their human right to wear it come what may.

Then, of course, there’s always the middle ground brigade who ebb and flow with the tide. “To wear or not to wear? That is the question….”