Hadi Yahmid, Islam Online (Doha, Qatar), October 26, 2008
A Swiss court ruling against exempting Muslim students from compulsory, mixed swimming classes has sparked a hot debate over respecting the religious beliefs of minorities.
“Muslim students in Europe should be granted the right to take swimming lessons that fit their religious beliefs,” Chakib Benmakhlouf, head of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), told IslamOnline.net.
“Some Western countries violate the principles of freedom by laws and court rulings that transgress on the rights of their minorities.”
A Swiss court turned down on Friday, October 24, a request by a Swiss Muslim father to exempt his two sons from attending mixed swimming classes.
It argued that exempting students from mixed swimming classes for religious reasons must be very restricted.
Equality between the two sexes and the success of the integration process should be given priority over religious considerations, argued the court.
The verdict runs counter to a 1993 court ruling which allowed the exemption of a Muslim schoolgirl from attending mixed swimming lessons that violate her religious tents.
There are more than 340,000 Muslims in Switzerland, which has a population of 7.4 million.
Islam is the second religion in the European country after Christianity.
Some Swiss schools have taken measures to encourage Muslim students to attend swimming classes by allocating separate pools and changing rooms for boys and girls.
But many Muslim students had to dropped out from the mixed swimming classes when such accommodations were not make.
Sheikh Ounis Guergah, the head of the fatwa section of the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF), said people should strike the right balance.
“In principle, people should ne be very rigid when it comes to children who have not yet reached puberty,” he told IOL.
“But even in this case, parents must teach their kids modesty and chastity.”
Sheikh Guergah stressed that the case is different with adults and grown-ups.
“We recommend that they dress the way Islam dictates,” he said, noting that international swimmers in the Beijing Olympics wore swimming suits that almost covered all their bodies.
The scholar said Muslim students should abide by their religious dressing code as much as possible and seek exemption when possible.
“But if this will lead to expulsion from school as was the case in many French schools, it would be in the best interest of students to attend these (swimming) lessons.”