Bikini versus burkini: Which one is winning?

It is puzzling to follow the ongoing debate over the burkini in Western countries that are home to Muslim communities, since only a minority of this minority are likely to wear it. The debate coincides with the 70th anniversary of the invention of the bikini. This begs the question: Will the bikini be eclipsed by the burkini?

The “conseil d’état,” the highest judicial council in France, intervened and rejected municipalities’ ban on the burkini on public beaches. The ban could be due to the politics of fear gripping European cities following terror attacks in the name of Islam, a peaceful religion.

It is important not to mix the arguments for and against the burkini with those for and against the hijab, another divisive form of religious wear tolerated in most Western countries but frowned upon whenever there are bouts of terror attacks in the world. The full burqa and niqab are banned in schools, offices and hospitals in France, Belgium, Holland, and elsewhere in the world.

Most Muslim schools of thought agree that it is necessary for religiously observant Muslim women to cover their hair. Covering the face with the burqa or niqab is debatable in various societies, from the Gulf to South East Asia. The burkini is supposed to give observant Muslim women access to the beach.

The “conseil d’état” was right to uphold the freedom to choose what to wear, saying the decree banning the burkini “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of belief and individual freedom.” The debate will not stop here in an election year in France. A few mayors have vowed to continue to apply the ban.

By being on a beach, observant Muslim women are exposed to half-naked men and women. Islam calls on the devout to avoid places where nudity is rampant

Mohamed Chebarro


However, some seem to support the burkini out of a desire to antagonize and carve out a political identity, rather than champion women’s right to be on public beaches and wear attire that enables them to enjoy the sea, sand and sun.

Furthermore, observant Muslim women being on a mixed beach and wearing a burkini defies the essence of their religious teachings about upholding modesty by keeping their bodies hidden. The burkini clearly shows the body’s contours and shape.

By being on a beach, observant Muslim women are exposed to half-naked men and women. Islam calls on the devout to avoid places where nudity is rampant. By wearing a burkini, women may be observing one rule and flouting another.

The West

In the Arab and Muslim worlds, one can see the emergence of beach clubs with women-only spaces or segregated beach access for observant men and women. This is unlikely to be replicated in the West anytime soon. Veils, beards and burkinis will continue to be divisive issues in the West, as we try to find the fine line between applying one’s freedom to live, pray and dress without infringing the freedoms, beliefs and cultural sensitivities of others.

In Australia, France, the UK or US, liberty for all is guaranteed by written and unwritten constitutions. However, certain trends emanating from the expansion of political Islam are encouraging some to subscribe to a very visual Muslim identity.

This is making some feel - and rightly so – that their way of life and identity are being infringed upon and maybe threatened, especially if random attacks continue to target shopping malls, beach promenades and concert halls in Western cities due to a twisted interpretation of Islam.
Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News Program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London. He tweets @mochebaro

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.