GWU’s women’s-only pool hours opens debate about accomodations for Islam

By Michelle Boorstein An interesting discussion is brewing around George Washington University’s decision earlier this month to set aside one … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

An interesting discussion is brewing around George Washington University’s decision earlier this month to set aside one hour each week for women-only swimming at the campus recreation center. The decision was made to accommodate some Muslim students who say their faith requires they maintain a certain level of modesty.

Any new efforts around the country to accommodate Muslims are getting more attention in recent months amid what appears to be a new wave of anxiety about Islam in America. A small but very vocal group of critics has been arguing that American liberties are endangered by decisions like the one at GWU, and a similar decision about pool hours a Harvard and foot baths at the University of Michigan.

Discussion on a local listserv shows a range of views, including people who see GWU’s decision as a setback for women and others who see it as a welcome counter to our sometimes hyper-sexualized culture.

I spoke briefly about the issue to Ira Lupu, a law professor at GW who focuses on church-state issues. I asked him if Muslim women could argue religious discrimination if they couldn’t use the pool because of men, or if male students could argue they were losing out? He seemed to think the latter camp had a better argument due to Title IX’s ban on sexual discrimination in educational programs that get federal money.

“If I was in the [university's] office of general counsel, I’d say make it the same for men as women,” said Lupu.

The focus on what some critics call “creeping sharia” (the term implies a subtle encroachment of orthodox Islam onto American freedoms) comes at an interesting time. Conservative religious groups – mostly evangelicals, but also Jews and Catholics – have just spent the past few decades pouring money into legal cases establishing access for religious groups to public spaces; cases have focused on everything from Bible groups’ right to advertise and meet on public school property after-hours to religious holiday displays on public land.

“When you push for equal access, it really means that. Not just for your own folks,” Lupu said. “So here we go.”

  • rentianxiang

    If GWU is a private university it should be given some leeway with respect to how it handles accommodating certain beliefs. In theory, it should not be too troubling to accomodate people with special needs and even go through an expense to do so, like accomodating people with disabilities with ramps and restroom facilities. However, in this country we have always strived, with varying degrees of success, to counter traditional practices that single out women for special treatment and are still working toward the goal of ensuring equality for all people, regardless of gender. I regularly go to a public pool where there are men and women of all ages who happily go about their business of doing laps, learning to swim, doing water aerobics, etc. The women can dress in what is considered modest swimming attire based on local norms and need not don revealing bikinis. Just because certain groups, whether they are Muslims or other religions, have interpretations of modesty that are in conflict with local norms, does not require the local culture to adjust to them. If one group thinks, in contract to local culture, that swimwear is too immodest to be worn in the presence of the opposite sex, that is really just too bad. If the Muslim community wants to have pools that accommodate their religious particulars, then they should have the right to build a private facility that accomodates those particulars. If I were a student at GWU I wouldn’t really care much about one hour a week of pool time that will restrict the use of one of the university’s facilities for use by about half of the student body. But the bigger question is why should the university change any rules for any belief system which could limit the rights of other students? Will they start forming classes that are women-only? Will the restriction of access to certain classes and facilities make it more difficult for students to get the classes they want and need to graduate? I think a better option is for the students who are interested in having special rights/access is for them to pay for it. University facilities are often rented out for functions and this can be used to fund other school functions or lower costs such as student fees to use facilities. So, I think that those wanting to reserve the pool for their group should be allowed to rent the pool for a reasonable cost. If they are not willing to pay the rental fee, then they probably weren’t that interested in using the facility in the first place and the whole idea could be scrapped.

  • abrahamhab1

    Should a minuscule minority force the overwhelming majority abide by their rules or should it be the other way around? They knew about our culture before they came over and if they were honest with themselves and felt they could not assimilate they should not have made the trip. They understand by the term “free country” that they have a right to make it look like the failed societies from which they had escaped. Big misunderstanding!

  • Secular

    This is getting to too much. I wonder if anyone has done any estimation of what % of the GWU student population is female mulims. And out of that what % does even swim on a regular basis to make such an accommodation. First of all where did these girls learn to swim in the first place, isn’t it in some public swimming pools in their home towns? If they could learn in public pools before where did the modesty issue suddenly come about? When they started going to university?My usual refrain, do these people who demand such accommodations do they ever wonder how much accommodations their home countries make for the minorities and foreigners there. I have heard enough of teh nonsense about these being US citizens and they cannot be held responsible for those countries’ laws. Horse feathers, for someone who does not hesitate to demand and cry foul every corner, should have a greater sense of fairness about folks who are really oppressed.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    yasseryousufi I am not squirming and I did not cry out “Shariah is taking over America.”It is a matter of principle how women are treated. Perhaps Islam calls for modesty among women; many Western men and women would well agree with that.However, such extremes of prudishness and body-hatred, as is promoted by this anti-female attitude, border on mental disease.I do not suggest that people see a psychiatrist merely to be insulting and mean, as you intend your suggestion to me.My suggestion is meant to be helpful to people who are in mental distress over the compulsions of extreme religious propriety, and who might get some relief under psychiatric care.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi Your attitude towards sex is unhealthy. On this subject, you have shown in previous threads, you are ludicrously backward and antiquated.You should not speak anymore on matters which do not understand and cannot comprehend.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi You have your religious beliefs. And that is fine. But why should I be obligated by what you believe? After all, your beliefs are yours, not mine.Why should you be entitled to preferential treatment over others, simply because of your religious beliefs?

  • yasseryousufi1

    Daniel,Your views regarding muslims are usually hatefull to say the least as in you make fun of muslims who die in suicide bombings. By your own logic you shouldn’t speak about a religion and its followers you know nothing about.

  • yasseryousufi1

    Daniel,Is it really such a big deal? I hate repeating myself, but is one University out of thousands making a tiny bit of favor to its muslim students enough to make you right wing nuts go bonkers? Just take a deep breath and ask yourself whether you’re being unjustly hateful or not.

  • rentianxiang

    yasseryousufi1:You have resorted to the absurd tactic of labeling anyone who has any opinion that does not acquiesce to Muslim demands as an Islamophobe. I do not have any irrational fear of Islam. My dislike for Islam is based on my understanding of its religious texts, its history, and its current manifestations. My opposition to this kowtowing to a specific group has nothing to do with my distaste for Islam but, rather, how the desires of one group, whose views are not shared by the majority of the population, should not be able to infringe on the rights of others nor enjoy special privileges. I would feel the same way if the Nudist Student Association wanted to reserve the pool one hour a week for themselves so they could swim in the nude according to their naturalist beliefs. I would say they should receive no such privilege either unless they were willing to rent out the space for their sole use in accordance with the relevant policies of the university. If there are enough female students, Muslim or non-Muslim, who would prefer to swim free of the potential presence of their male colleagues, and they are willing to pay for the privilege, then let it be done. In turn, perhaps those funds could be used to improve the facilities for the rest of the students who can then derive a benefit from being deprived of the pool’s use and everyone is a winner.

  • yasseryousufi

    Yawwwwwwn~! Is that even News? One University out of thousands in USA gives 1 hour out of 24 to female students (not just muslim female students) who might be wary bathing alongside men. Apart from bringing out various resident islamophobes on this site (like these 3 so far) from their holes, whats the purpose of this useless waste of op-ed space.

  • singleworker

    You begin believing while looking through this article, like while hearing a boring TV Commercial’s ‘If

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi1 You are the right-wing nut, not me.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi1 Treating women like dogs is hateful. Sticking up the the rights and dignity of womankind is not hateful.You are right; this whole point is moot; I would imagine that Muslim women are not encourged to participate in any kind of sport; I am just not seeing it happen.

  • lepidopteryx

    Seems to me that if the issue is merely modesty, they could simply wear swimsuits that cover more. There are plenty of them available – just google modest swimsuits. There’s no need to bar men from the pool.

  • Secular

    YasserYousufi, you have no clue at all do you why we all would object to these. First of all your wonderful paradises have discriminatory laws against the infidels. But when you come over to the kafir lands, you also like to take advantage of the loopholes and op take advantage of our sense of fairness to demand special benefactions. We are all tired of this nonsense and wish put a stop to this kind of nonsense. Because the next thing you guys do is if GWU can do it why Columbia, and the precedence is set and you keep on at it. It is the reason why we want nip this in the bud.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi People don’t go to swimming pools to “bathe.” People “bathe” at home, naked, in their bath-tubs.People go to swimming pools to swim; it is a sport. If Muslim women are too modest to wear ordinary swim-suits when they swim, then maybe they should stop swimming and go see a psychiatrist. Teaching sexual repression is wrong; making women feel that they are bad and wicked merely for having female bodies is wrong. Western society should not accomodate to Islam on this point; it is Islam that should change.

  • yasseryousufi

    Daniel,If one University amongst thousands in America allows its female students to have just one hour (which I am assuming is one of those lax periods during which the pool isn’t used by many people) and it makes you squirm and cry out ‘Shariah is taking over America’ may be you should be the one to seek psychiatric help!

  • APaganplace

    I mean, come to think of it, lots of straight guys are shy around girls, have an hour for them, too. Lady knows, there’s been enough times in my life when I’ve said ‘It’s all right,lads, I’m a priestess, I’ve seen it all,’ …shy boys need exercise, too. Often with an urgency, actually, but you’d be surprised. Really doesn’t have to be about ‘Islam.’ The same sorts of reasonable accomodation could be useful to the just-plain shy, scared, or just-plain hung-up. Maybe the boys would like an hour where they can scream indelicate things while jumping off the high board. Why not, as long as it doesn’t put too many people out. :)

  • APaganplace

    (Also, Daniel: I’ve seen better of you than this,not that you’re being treated fairly insome ways, here, either.)I don’t agree with a lot of Muslim, (and before too long ago, Christian, lingeringly-so,) ideas that if a man sees something, he’s entitled to it and it’s the woman’s fault,’ but *perspective.* I’m pretty sure any given student organization can reserve some pool time somewhere in a week, all to themselves, at most colleges, whoever they are. Young Republicans, Pagan Students, Outing Club, whoever. It’s not an unreasonable request. ‘Women’ is like *half* the population. Some of whom might have varying reasons to want some ‘girl time.’ It doesn’t have to be ‘creeping Sharia’ if no one *makes* that of it. And if you’re worried about social integration, well, if Muslim women can’t swim with Western ones, at least without being very guarded about it, does that help, or reinforce the very isolation some claim to be ‘against?’ It’s not like Western gals don’t change their behavior when guys are around… Or guys. At least till you’re ‘one of the boys.’ (Even then you might occasionally be like, ‘Dude, I really didn’t want to know you were capable of saying that.’) :) I call for a bit of ‘lightening up.’ It’s not as if restrictive social norms and pool regulations stand much of a chance on a college campus of all places if they become even mildly oppressive. It’s *college.* You can fight excessive repression with a Rodney Dangerfield mask and the proverbial macaroni duck, should it come down to that. :) (Bathe is a perfectly valid word, btw, hence ‘bathing suit.’ )

  • yasseryousufi

    I do not have any irrational fear of Islam. My dislike for Islam is based on my understanding of its religious texts, its history, and its current manifestations. —rentianxiang*****************************************

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    APaganplace Ah, that guy, Yasseryousufi, makes me so made. I guess he is a 16 year old who thinks he know everything.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    yasseryousufi In the first place, who is Terry Jones?And in the second place, if you don’t want people to comment on Islam, then stop trying to shove Islam down everyone’s throats.

  • jm125

    When will we stop cowtowing to these genocidal muslim vermin? If such beliefs mean so much to them, they do not belong here period. Even without the terrorism, they are nothing but trouble. Let them jump in a lake in islamiland.

  • yasseryousufi

    Daniel,Islam and muslims aint going anywhere. Might as well get your sorry arse used to it or once again take my advice and seek psychiatric help~!

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    YasseryousufiI think you’re a weirdo.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    YasseryousufiI think you are a little confused on this blog, because you come from a background where freedom of thought and expression is discouraged, and your mind is short-circuited at all the many opinions that are at variance with what you think is proper for people to think. But, people think a lot of things that range far and wide from what Islam would allow, and I am afraid that you will just have to get used to it.You are a little sheltered, a little narrow-minded, a little prudish, a little judgemental, a little rude, a little haughty and superior; by your own example as a Muslim, I do not see how someone like you could ever persuade anyone to convert.Your Christian twins are all too common in my own country; there is no way that they could ever convince anyone to become Christian, by the confused examples of their own bitter lives.

  • yasseryousufi

    Daniel,OK so I get it now, You dont want muslims to build mosques, You dont want them to associate themselves with their religion, you think its ok to discriminate against muslims because of their religion, you think its funny throw around lewd tasteless jokes when muslims die in suicide bombings and I am the one who’s narrow minded! Dont take it from Muslim Supermacist like me dude! Go lookup the definition of democracy. Its not about mob rule, a real democracy is where the rights of its minorities are guarded as jealously as the majority.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    yasseryousufi I have no idea what you’re talking about; you have obviously got me confused with someone else.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Yasseryousufi Your answer to me did not really relate. You are still a little sheltered, a little narrow-minded, a little prudish, a little judgemental, a little rude, a little haughty and superior.And you express yourself with awkward bitterness that is all over the place, and not relating to anything in particular.I worry about you. You’re not going to blow yourself up, are you?

  • yasseryousufi

    Daniel,Its been a while and I have just about figured you up. I only placed the mirror in front of you. Sorry if you looked ugly!

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    yasseryousufi Once again, I cannot possibly imagine what you are getting at.I am sorry your are so bitter. Mohammed does not seem to be doing you any good.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Back to the subject at hand:If Muslim women are too bashful to swim in the presence of men, then maybe they are a little too bashful, and maybe we should help them overcome this bashfulness, rather than ban men from the pool.

  • haveaheart

    It’s just one hour a week, folks. What’s the big deal?Go to any public swimming facility, and you’ll find time blocs set aside for “family swim,” “senior swim,” “tyke tyme,” “adult swim,” “lane swimming,” etc. It’s just an accommodation that permits discrete groups a portion of exclusive swimming time. The same thing is done at skating rinks.So, permitting observant Muslim women (or Orthodox Jewish women, for that matter) a single hour of exclusive swimming time once a week is not exactly introducing Sharia law. It’s just accommodating human preference in a way that is routinely done already for other groups.Come on, folks. An hour a week — what’s the big deal?

  • yasseryousufi

    Dani Boy!As they say, age is just a number. You could be 50 and still talk crap. I believe that!

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    YasseryousufiYou think I am a terrible person. But I am not a dirty, sneaky, back-stabbing snake in the grass.

  • GabrielRockman

    Funny, many of the founders of this country were puritanical Christians who had very similar standards of modesty to what many Muslims have now. Muslim women are not the only women who value modesty. There are Christian women today who also value modesty, and presumably women of other faiths as well. This one hour is not a “Muslim women only” hour, it is a “women only” hour. I would be shocked if Muslim women were the only women who appreciated this one hour.It is also very foolish to believe that Muslim women who value modesty are repressed. A small minority of them are repressed, but the sexualization of American children causes MUCH more harm to our society than the repression of Muslim women. Far more violence against women results from the sexualization of young girls than results from the minority of Muslims who believe not just in modesty, but in repression.

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