USA: Muslim girls Kicked Out Of public Pool, the mayor apologized

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SHAFAQNQ – Muslim children were kicked out of a public swimming pool in the US state of Delaware because they were wearing shirts and hijabs.

Tahsiyn A Ismaa’eel brought campers from her Arabic summer enrichment programme to their local pool in Wilmington, Delaware, last week, as she has done for years. Some of the students wore cotton shirts, shorts, and headscarves in accordance with their religious beliefs – something Ms Ismaa’eel told local news outlets had never caused a problem before.

But this time, she said, a pool employee asked the group to leave, citing a rule against wearing cotton in the pool.

“There’s nothing posted that says you can’t swim in cotton,” Ms Ismaa’eel told Delaware Online. “At the same time, there are other kids with cotton on…I asked, ‘Why are my kids being treated differently’?”

Ms Ismaa’eel said she was later approached by a city police officer who pressured the group to leave, saying there were people waiting outside to get in, reported The Independent.

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Ismaa’eel is that her students seem to be hurt by what’s happening.

“My campers are observing all of this, and they’re being picked on,” she said.

She said it’s important for the children enrolled in her summer camp ― especially the special-needs kids ― to get an opportunity to play in the pool just like kids from other communities in the neighborhood.

“It’s so important. It’s part of your summer experience. Kids love to go to the pool,” she said. “Our special-needs kids especially, they enjoy the water. This is therapeutic for them.”, Huffington Post reported.

The office of Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki initially sided with the pool employees, citing a city rule that states all swimmers must be in “proper swimming attire”. The rule does not specifically prohibit wearing cotton.

The incident sparked outcry from Muslim groups and local activists, who claimed the children were being discriminated against and made to feel unwelcome because of their religion. Others noted that Americans are entitled under the law to reasonable religious accommodations when using public facilities.

Mr Purzycki eventually retracted his statement and apologised to the children, saying his office had “made a mess” of the situation.

“We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident, Mr Purzycki said in a statement. “I apologise to the children who were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing.”

He added: “We also referred to vaguely-worded pool policies to assess and then justify our poor judgement, and that was also wrong.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thanked the mayor for his apology, and praised his attempts to meet with the camp director and children personally.

“We also welcome his commitment to ensuring that no swimmers in his city are barred from access to public pools because of their faith,” CAIR spokeswoman Zainab Chaudry said in a statement.

At least one person, however, wasn’t satisfied with the apology.

“I said why are you apologising?” asked Glenda Pinkett, a seasonal employee at the pool, according to Delaware Online. “…Nobody was discriminated. As I did with all our patrons, we asked them to not wear cotton.”

Ms Ismaa’eel said many of her students are low-income, and cannot afford special religious swimming gear. She added, however, that she had received several offers to cover the cost of her students’ swimwear since their story was published.

It is difficult to discern exactly how often Muslim Americans are discriminated against because of their attire. In its most recent report, CAIR found a 17 per cent increase in bias-motivated incidents against American Muslims from 2016 to 2017, and a 15 per cent increase in the number of hate crimes in that time period. Multiple studies have found that Muslim women who wear a hijab bear the brunt of this harassment.

A Denver-area woman told local outlets she was turned away from a public swimming pool in 2014 for wearing long pants and a shirt in accordance with her beliefs. The city claimed the prohibition on “inappropriate” swimwear was a safety measure.

Naveed Baqir, executive director of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, said his family had given up on public swimming pools long ago.

“For my own children, I’d rather pay the money and be treated like everyone else rather than putting myself in an anxiety situation,” he said.

Last year a Pew Research Centre study showed that anxiety has been growing in the community in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.

Nearly half said they had been the victims of at least one discriminatory incident during the previous year and nearly one in five said they had been called an offensive name.

Anxiety has been heightened by last month’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Mr Trump’s executive order imposing an entry ban on citizens from several Muslim majority countries.

Earlier this month, Hassane Elbaz, a Manhattan food vendor, was assaulted by a man who he said had been hurling insults at him for several weeks.

In May, a study carried out by the University of Warwick in the UK found a direct correlation between the level of hate crimes and anti-Muslim tweets by the US president.

Research by New America, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington DC, shows anti-Muslim activity in the US peaked following the 2015 Paris and San Bernardino attacks and has been higher since Mr Trump took office than before.

Even elected officials have displayed hostility: Hardy King, the mayor of the South Carolina town of Irmo, used his Facebook account to launch an attack on Muslims sharing a number of offensive posts and memes.

In a number of states including West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Missouri legislation has been proposed to outlaw the application of “foreign” – meaning Sharia – law.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, mosques across the country have been facing harassment in various forms from physical attacks to attempts to deny planning permission and building permits.

“In recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked,” said the ACLU.

“Although these sentiments manifest themselves in many ways, attacks on mosques directly take aim at religious freedom.”,The National reported.

 

Read more from shafaqna:

Experts Seeing Spike in Possible Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes

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