Jaya Narain, Daily Mail (UK), Dec. 9, 2006
A council has sparked a row after it shut a swimming pool to hold Muslim-only sessions on a Sunday afternoon.
The swimming sessions — which are for men only — are held for two hours every week at a leisure centre in London.
Non-Muslims may swim during this time but only if they follow the strict dress code of swimming shorts that hide the navel and extend below the knee.
Women are completely banned from attending but have their own special swimming sessions outside opening hours.
During their sessions bathers must be covered from head to foot with their swimming costume covering their body from the neck down to the ankle.
Last night furious members vowed they would hand in their membership at Thornley Heath leisure centre in Croydon, London.
Daniel Foley, 44, said: “I turned up and saw a sign saying it was closing early for Muslim afternoon — I couldn’t believe it.”
Alex Craig, 34, said: “I think it is preposterous that a council should be encouraging this type of segregation over municipal facilities.
“It seems the issue here is over modesty. Surely if Muslims want to swim then they should just turn up with their modest swimwear at the same time as everyone else.
“To make a special provision for them is just ridiculous and strikes me as imposing an ‘Us and them’ mentality which is wrong.”
The leisure centre is extremely popular locally as it is the only swimming pool offering cheap sessions for miles around.
Sarah Fellows, 37, said: “I take my kids all the time but I did notice they had introduced the men-only Muslim afternoon a while back though they’ve now changed the times as well.
“I am not opposed to swimming sessions divided by gender but I am opposed to sessions divided by religion. How inclusive is that?”
But the nearby Croydon Mosque has defended the introduction of Muslim-only swimming sessions at the council pool.
A spokesman said: “Muslims are not allowed to show intimate parts of their body. This is non-negotiable. Muslims have as much right to go swimming as anyone else.”
A spokesman for Croydon Council said: “We are keen to ensure sporting facilities in the borough are accessible to the whole community. “We appreciate that certain religious groups, such as Muslims, have strict rules on segregation for activities including sports, so in response to requests from the local community, we have been running these sessions at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre for the past year, with a women-only session on Saturday evening and a male-only session on Sunday evening. These have been successful and well attended.
“Croydon is not unique in offering such sessions to minority communities, many local authorities do the same. We are not giving preference to any one group but simply taking practical steps to create access to all.”
Eariler this year plans for a Muslim-only day at Alton Towers had to be cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
Officials hoped up to 28,000 Muslims would attend the event on September 17, drawn by the opportunity to enjoy the Staffordshire theme park’s attractions without alcohol or gambling.