Is the burkini common bath wear for Russian women?

The burkini is a rarity in Russia, despite the fact that Russia is home to more than 20 million Muslims. Source: DPA/Vostock-Photo

The burkini is a rarity in Russia, despite the fact that Russia is home to more than 20 million Muslims. Source: DPA/Vostock-Photo

The burkini, or Muslim swimsuit, is not common bath wear among Russian women followers of Islam. They prefer to bathe dressed in ordinary clothes, covering the entire body, or in bathing suits. There is one part of Russia, however, where the burkini is growing in popularity.

A number of French cities have recently banned women from wearing the “burkini,” sparking a heated debate across Europe. Some have supported the ban, believing that the burkini – a specially designed form of swimwear with long sleeves and a head cover – is a symbol of religious extremism and the suppression of women's rights. Some, on the contrary, consider the ban to be outrageous and call it a manifestation of intolerance and disrespect for religious groups.

The burkini is a rarity in Russia, despite the fact that the country is home to over 20 million Muslims (15 million Russian citizens and between four and seven million migrant workers from former Soviet Central Asian republics) and many Muslim women wear traditional Islamic dress. Orthodox Muslim women go to the beach and swim in their usual daily attire, while less orthodox ones prefer conventional swimwear.

Why don’t Russia’s Muslim women wear the burkini?

Maria Zagryadskaya, 30, a human resources specialist, has recently returned from Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan (which has a predominantly Islamic population), where she was vacationing with her family on the coast of the Caspian Sea. In a conversation with RIR, she noted that she had not seen women in the burkini there.

"Local Muslim women were swimming in their usual clothes," she said. "I think the burkini wouldn’t be bad, because this is a swimsuit specifically designed to be able to swim and enclose the body. This is better than wet clothing that tightly covers everything, but in fact hides nothing. There were a lot of tourists from Ingushetia [a Muslim North Caucasus republic – RIR], but their women bathed in conventional open bathing suits."

At swimming pools in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, women in the burkini are not just rare, but inconceivable. In two major sports complexes in Moscow, we were told that no women in the burkini had ever been seen in their swimming pools.

"Women do not go there, because there they will have to swim with men in swimming trunks," said Nasima Bokova, a former editor of the Musulmanka (“Muslim Woman”) magazine. "And this is unacceptable for Muslim women."

Vacationers at the Laguna (Lagoon) women's resort in the village of Aldy on the Grozny Sea shore in Grozny, Russia. Source: Yelena Afonina/TASSVacationers at the Laguna (Lagoon) women's resort in the village of Aldy on the Grozny Sea shore in Grozny, Russia. Source: Yelena Afonina/TASS

Muslim women wear the burkini for public bathing in Chechnya, where a secret dress code for women has been in force for many years, obliging them to cover their heads and open areas of the body.

"In Chechnya, there is the following trend: The number of women without headscarves in the streets has been steadily declining, and those in hijabs, by contrast, is growing," said Vladimir Sevrinovsky, an expert on the Caucasus and the author of a guide to Chechnya. "So Chechen women, some in accordance with the principles of Sharia, and some out of fear of publicity, bathe only in their regular clothing or in the burkini," he said.

In Russia’s Muslim regions

Many Muslim women in Russia wear traditional Muslim clothing – mostly the hijab, a scarf that leaves the face uncovered.

"The niqab, a full-face veil banned in many European countries, is not typical for Russian Muslims," said Bokova. "If a woman wears the niqab, it means that she has closed herself off from society. She cannot be socially active anymore."

In Russia, Muslims live mostly in regions such as Bashkiria, Tatarstan, Crimea, and the North Caucasus republics – Karachay-Cherkessia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, the eastern regions of the Stavropol Territory and Adygea.

"In the Russian regions with a Muslim population, the wearing of the hijab is a common practice, with no obstacles being posed," said Rais Suleimanov, an expert at the Institute of National Strategy and Islamic scholar living in Tatarstan.

Attitudes to the hijab in Russia

Many Muslims also live in the European part of Russia – mainly in the large cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The population in large cities is more cosmopolitan and tolerant than in the sparsely populated provinces.

Bokova has been wearing the hijab in Moscow for more than 15 years.

"Definitely, Russian society has recently become increasingly more tolerant of Muslim clothing," said Bokova. "In 15 years, I’ve never encountered any aggression from people around." According to her observations, the most tolerant of hijab-wearing women are those under 30, while the least tolerant are people over 50.

Nevertheless, she noted that if you drive 100 to 150 kms (60-90 miles) from Moscow, the reaction to the hijab will be rather negative.

"In small towns, people, seeing a woman in the hijab, will be very surprised or even shocked," she said."This is due in part to the fact that women in hijabs is a rare sight in small Russian towns. And television, when it talks about Islamic terrorists, unwittingly creates a negative image of Muslims as a whole, which leads to an increase in Islamophobia."

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