A PARIS swimming pool has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a "burqini", a swimsuit covering most of the body, officials said, adding to tensions over Muslim dress in France.
The incident came as French lawmakers conduct hearings on whether to ban the burqa after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe body covering and veil was ”not welcome” in France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.
Officials in the Paris suburb of Emerainville said they let the woman swim in the pool in July wearing the “burqini”, designed for Muslim women who want to swim without revealing their bodies.
But when she returned in August, they decided to apply hygiene rules and told her she could not swim if she insisted on wearing the garment, which resembles a wetsuit with built-in hood.
Pool staff “reminded her of the rules that apply in all (public) swimming pools which forbid swimming while clothed”, said Daniel Guillaume, an official with the pool management.
Le Parisien newspaper said the woman, identified by her first name Carole, was a French convert to Islam and that she was determined to go to the courts to challenge the decision.
”Quite simply, this is segregation,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
“I will fight to try to change things. And if I see that the battle is lost, I cannot rule out leaving France.”
That statement would have brought a nationwide sigh of relief and offers to pay her and her sympathisers fares out of the country.
The newspaper ran a photo of the woman sporting her three-piece “burqini” which she said she purchased in Dubai during a recent holiday.
”I bought it thinking that I could enjoy swimming without having to uncover myself,” she said.
Local mayor Alain Kelyor said “all this has nothing to do with Islam,” adding that the “burqini” was “not an Islamic swimsuit; that type of suit does not exist in the Koran,” the Muslim holy book.
France has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the burqa.
In an address to parliament in June, Sarkozy said the burka was not a symbol of religious faith but a sign of women's “subservience” and declared that it was “not welcome” in staunchly secular France.
The country has had a long-running debate on how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam without undermining the tradition of separating church and state, enshrined in a flagship 1905 law.
In 2004, it passed a law banning headscarves or any other “conspicuous” religious symbols in state schools to defend secularism.
The burqa debate in France has drawn chilling warnings from Al-Qaeda that it was ready to “take revenge for the honour of our daughters and sisters”.
Communist MP Andre Gerin, who heads the National Assembly's burqa commission, called the “burqini” ridiculous and said pool administrators were right.
We can't allow this. This is proof that there is a political agenda behind such dress,” Gerin told Le Parisien.
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