Sunday, August 3, 2008

Muslim Swimming Hours: One Jew's Opinion

(Thanks To Monkey In The Middle). Lul Abdulle's Islamic beliefs prohibit her from swimming in front of of men.Representing her in her quest for women's only swimming hours is the Somali women's association of Portland. The City Attorney of Portland has weighed in with the opinion that having women only swimming hours would be discriminating against men and would show favour to one religious group and their practices.
My perspective on Ms. Abdulle's misgivings about mixed swimming comes from two perspectives. One is that of a person who is overweight. Although I do not yet have my own zip code, covering my ample girth in mixed company might be considered by some to be a public service . Failure to do so might be a violation of zoning laws in some localities. The other perspective is from the point of an orthodox Jew. As a young man in my twenties, I converted to Judaism almost three decades ago. In the course of reviewing dietary and other laws with the rabbi who was instructing me, I was informed that America's most popular brand of eye candy, the mixed beach was not kosher. The rabbi told me that as an orthodox Jew, I would be expected to swim at facilities in which men and women did not swim together. A good friend at whose house I ate on Shabbos told me that there was a beach in Boston at that time frequented by Christian clergy at which limited hours were available for those who chose to swim separately from the opposite sex. I did not and have not shopped for a leniency that would have permitted mixed swimming. It is not only Muslims but orthodox Jews and some Christians who do not swim in the presence of the opposite sex. It could therefore be argued that Ms. Abdulle is not asking for an accommodation of her religious beliefs that is specifically Islamic.
There are ample grounds to state that Ms. Abdulle is asking for public accommodation of her beliefs that is actually secular. There is general acceptance of public bathrooms and dressing rooms that are segregated by sex. Muslims and Jews simply take this a step further. There have been in New York City in the past groping incidents of sufficient frequency to make separate swimming desirable to many who are simply concerned about their safety.
If someone only wants to swim around members of their own faith or ethnic group, then they are on shakier legal ground. The only place where such wishes could possibly be accomodated might be in private clubs. The state certainly has business segregating public accomodations according to faith. There might also be a question of market niche. Are there enough people in Portland Oregon who want separate swimming facilities? They might need to coordinate the hours in several locations to accomodate everyone. Some hours might just not be available for those who wish to swim in conditions of acceptable modesty. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for religious principles.
If Muslim women don't object to having a life guard named Goldie Rabinowitz and Jewish women don't object to a life guard named Fatima Nasruddin then America might broaden the perspective of some devoutly religious immigrants. The similarity between orthodox Jews and Muslims in some areas puts them on the same side of some issues.
There have been incidents such as those in Minnesota where Muslim taxi drivers refused to pick up passengers carrying alcohol or accompanied by seeing eye dogs, citing interpretations of Islamic law rejected by reputable Islamic scholars. These seem to be communal muscle flexing by an ethnic group. Such requests should be emphatically rejected. Muslims who are willing to swim with members of another faith but not members of the opposite gender can not be accused of bringing intolerance to our shores. These limits must be clearly spelled out. Americans are properly ashamed of signs stating "whites only" and "no Jews or dogs allowed". Such practices must not gain new acceptance with new immigrants.
There is an opportunity for the Somalis of Portland and the city welcoming them to broaden their perspectives. There is some room to accept the sensibilities of new immigrants. But Americans have deep seated values of which they have every right to be proud. Our limits in accomodating the needs of religious minorities should be staked out with no apologies. There is nothing wrong with defining ourselves as a nation by finding the limits of our tolerance. Oregon is not likely to be the last place in which such questions will arise. We as Americans can and should accomodate religious minorities where it is feasible and in harmony with our basic values.
Working out an accomodation on mixed swimming in Portland might take some time. The rights of the majority and the minority must be accomodated. Europeans have made many mistakes that we can study as we deal with the particular issues accompanying Islamic immigrants. There are some neighbourhoods in which youth gangs demand that Islamic law be dominant. There are cases in Amsterdam where unveiled Muslim women have their faces slashed. Such acts are criminal and shold be treated as such in our courts of law. Separate swimming need not be the top of a slippery slope. Here is one Jew who thinks it deserves a chance. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Findalis said...

While if a city or town wishes to establish segregated times for swimmers, that would be fine. But to go into a city council meeting and demand a Muslim only time be set up is wrong.

I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, but did have mixed bathing at the beach (if you want to call running into the water, then out again bathing). But when it came to the Community Pool set up at our YM/YWHA, there were separate times for women and men to accommodate the orthodox community. There were also separate times for the swim teams, instructions for swimming classes (non-mixed) and other recreational activities.

If the Somali community want Muslim only swimming pools, they should make their own. Jewish communities did it for years.