Consideration for religious beliefs should not be blown out of proportion

By Sehar Siddiqui

Something as simple and necessary as young girls learning how to swim has been branded as Sharia law.

A Fox News correspondent declared, “Sharia law is now changing everything” after a local YMCA in Minnesota collaborated with the Somali-American community to start a once-a-week, hour-long private swim session for young Muslim girls. 

Sharia law is a broad idea interpreted differently by Muslims across the world, but the general concept is that it advises Muslims on how to conduct their lives on a day-to-day basis. Part of this involves beliefs about modesty, which are critical to Muslims practicing their religion. The importance of modesty in Islam is why young girls learning how to swim would need privacy to learn this skill comfortably.

Since wearing clothing that is not revealing is an important facet of Islam, the private swim lessons would provide a fair opportunity to learn this skill while still keeping in line with their religious practices.  

Saying Sharia law is changing “everything” is a negatively charged, lofty statement. Allowing young Muslim females to learn how to swim in an environment that is comfortable for them and in accordance with their religious beliefs is hardly changing “everything.”

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    And the change that this program does introduce is a positive one. Closing off the pool once a week for only an hour would hardly inconvenience anybody. In fact, this program could benefit more people than it would harm.

    What this program is not, though, is an example of extremism seeping into the U.S. government. Equating an opportunity for young girls to learn a necessary life skill to Sharia law “changing everything” is a slippery slope.

    I would venture to assume that nobody in the Minneapolis-St. Paul YMCA was collaborating with any extremist group to put this plan into action. I highly doubt there were extremist intentions behind the program, either. 

    The people who are going to be most impacted by this are the girls learning how to swim.

    Setting aside a block of time once a week for these swim lessons isn’t going to cause a Sharia law infiltration of the local and national government.

    This small blip on the radar of inclusivity has caused an uproar because Fox tends to snatch up any reason to perpetuate fear of a minority group. Fox News and Western culture have a habit of focusing on the extremist interpretation of Sharia law, so any religious accommodation for Muslims can be easily stuck under the extremism category. 

    Instead of taking the time to understand the importance of Muslim women learning how to swim in modesty, Fox took the situation as an opportunity to imply extremist mechanisms of Sharia at work.

    Rather than applauding the YMCA, the Somali-American community and the police department for creating such an inclusive environment for young Muslim females, Fox completely distorted their intentions and made these swim lessons something ominous: “We’ll keep watching this story for you.”

    Right, because there’s so much to fear and watch out for in a developing story about young girls learning how to swim. “When will these girls learn how to breast-stroke? When will they finally start to use the diving board?” And the obvious next question, “When will they infiltrate the government with their extremist Sharia views on swimming in modesty?” 

    Oh, the terror.

    Even more ridiculous than these swimming lessons being an example of Sharia law is Fox attempting to legitimize Sharia law “changing everything.” Despite this being a ridiculous claim, if Islamic extremists were to attempt to “change everything,” they’d need a larger body of people than only about one percent of the U.S. population.

    Although Sharia Law does include the word “law,” the nature of it observed popularly among Muslims is far from political and focuses more on an appropriate lifestyle. There is a difference between Islam influencing local and national governments and Islam motivating a local YMCA to give young Muslim women the opportunity to swim in an accommodating environment. That tiny one percent still deserves the right to utilize local pool facilities.

    The fact of the matter is, this supposed change of “everything” is only changing Muslim women’s ability to swim. The only difference between now and then for this YMCA is that the pool is now more accessible to a larger percentage of the community than it was before.

    The saddest part is that Fox took a story that could have boosted America’s perceptions of diversity into a positive light and instead made it into a negative story about extremism that perpetuates fear mongering.

    Sehar is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].