The burkini: rare but controversial in France

AFP

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A contraction of "bikini" and "burqa", the burkini was developed as beachware for Muslim women who wish to keep themselves covered from head to ankles A contraction of "bikini" and "burqa", the burkini was developed as beachware for Muslim women who wish to keep themselves covered from head to ankles

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The burkini, a body-concealing swimsuit worn by Muslim women that has provoked a national debate in France, is little worn in the country with Europe's largest Muslim community.
Where is the burkini from?
A contraction of "bikini" and "burqa", the burkini was developed as fashionable beachware for Muslim women who wish to keep themselves covered from head to ankles.
Its invention is attributed to Aheda Zanetti, an Australian woman who unveiled a line of "religiously correct" sportswear in 2003.
In Australia, where beach culture is pervasive, there was a "hole in the market that needed to be filled" for more modest beachwear, she told AFP in 2007.
When did it arrive in France?
Influential "orthodox" Muslim blogger Fateh Kimouche says the burkini reached French shores in around 2008. It can be bought online from "Islamic fashion" websites but is a rare sight on the beaches.
Kimouche says the use of the swimwear in France is impossible to quantify, but is quite limited. "It's much more common (for Muslim women) to swim with (regular) clothes on," he says.
How big is the market?
Zanetti says she has been surprised by the success of the burkini, enjoying sales around the world. The British retailer Mark & Spencers, which began selling two burkini models this year, says it has sold out.
"France is behind with Islamic fashion," Helene Agesilas, co-creator of the Fringadine label, said in March when Marks & Spencers and Uniqlo began marketing Islamic clothing lines, causing a stir in France.
Nonetheless, "there is a real demand", said Agesilas, who sells "modest fashion" clothing.
The world market for Islamic clothing was estimated at $230 billion in 2014 and could reach $320 billion (280 billion euros) in 2020, she added.
What does the Koran say?
The Muslim holy book does not explicitly require wearing a veil or head covering and opinions vary over the interpretation of its writings on the subject, according to Franck Fregosi, an Islam expert at France's national research centre (CNRS).
"There are references to rules of modesty, but no codification," he says.
What does French law say?
Since the burkini does not conceal the face, it is allowed in public places under French law. Only the niqab, which covers the face, has been banned since 2011.
Several towns have banned the burkini this summer, arguing that they wish to avert "public disorder" in the context of a heightened fear of jihadist attacks, notably after last month's Bastille Day truck massacre.

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