'Sharia swimsuit' gives cover at beach

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The Independent Online

The runaway success this season at the Sports Mall in the wealthy Cairo neighbourhood of Nasr City is the ultra-modest "Sharia swimsuit".

The runaway success this season at the Sports Mall in the wealthy Cairo neighbourhood of Nasr City is the ultra-modest "Sharia swimsuit".

Hossam Abdel Dayem, a salesman at the shop, counts 10 different cuts and colours on the rails, but all share the high-neck, sleeves and small skirt worn over leggings that are designed to be acceptable to Islamic law.

The Sharia swimsuit appeared for sale several years ago, but only now has it become widely available. This year, half of all swimming costumes sold by the Sports Mall shops are in the new, modest style. "We're an Islamic country," Mr Abdel Dayam said. "Of course they're popular."

The manager of another branch of the Sports Mall, Serageddin Suleiman, said: "I began stocking [Sharia swimsuits] because there was a demand from women wanting to cover up as much as possible when they go on holiday and to the beach. Islam says women should dress modestly - even at the sea."

Until now, most religious women have swum either in their clothes or not at all. "The Islamic swimming costumes are better for us because our religion says we must be properly covered," said 15-year old Dina Nasr, who comes from an observant family.

"Some parents don't like their children swimming in the ordinary costumes, but I think they will let them in the new ones. So it allows us to do something that wasn't possible before."

However, Egypt's religious authorities have not sanctioned the new swimsuit. Sheikh Mahmoud al-Hanafi, of Al-Azhar, the highest religious authority for Sunni Muslims, said: "There's no such thing as an Islamic swimsuit, there's only Islamic dress. It shouldn't be tight, it shouldn't be translucent and it shouldn't be attractive to strange men."

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