Muslim Women Draw From Rosa Parks to Defy Burkini Ban

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Women in Grenoble, France defy the burkini ban at a city pool (Photo: Citizen Alliance of Grenoble/Facebook)
Women in Grenoble, France defy the burkini ban at a city pool (Photo: Citizen Alliance of Grenoble/Facebook)

Fresh on the heels of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez leaning on the intersectionality of concentration camps and migrant detention centers, French women are drawing on their own parallels between iconic civil rights leader Rosa Parks and their own defiance against France’s burkini ban.

The women, part of a campaign which was launched in the French city of Grenoble by a group called the Citizen Alliance, aims to defy the ban on wearing burkinis which are forbidden at many pools and beaches in France. They say they’ve been inspired by Rosa Parks who, in 1955, became famous for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus for white passengers when order by the bus driver to do so. (The driver had her arrested for violating the Jim Crow segregation laws, which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott by 17,000 black citizens.)

[Civic disobedience of Muslim women in Grenoble for public swimming pools to respect freedom of conscience.]

As part of France’s ongoing struggle with creating space for people of faith, the burkini came to spotlight in 2016 when a set of photos went viral capturing side-by-side glimpses of a burkini-clad Muslim woman surrounded by officers who forced her to remove the garment.

The burkini is a swimsuit adaptation named after the most monstrous of Islamist garment, the burqa, a head-to toe covering. Notably, in 2019, Muslim model Halima Aden posed in a burkini in the pages of Sports Illustrated. Interestingly, these issues keep securing privileged space in public attention.

In part, that’s done through something called intersectionality, which is exactly what we see here in the headlines of Muslim women comparing their resistance to Rosa Parks.


What is Intersectionality? 

According to one source in interfaith circles who has requested anonymity, intersectionality can be narrowed to the understanding that,

“It’s how people connect issues that are unrelated to one another in an effort to force everyone to adopt a down-the-line unified Leftist stance on absolutely everything. And by bolting Islamist ideas into all this other stuff  apologists like [Linda] Sarsour gain new allies.”

It’s an old strategy that keeps taking on a new form. While intersectionality is used by Islamists, not all those appealing to intersectionality are Islamists. It’s also a strategy applied in good faith by those who feel the they’re standing up to all oppression by advocating for different causes with groups ideologically aligned, at least along party lines in the form of identity politics.

Another iconic moment in recent American history where we saw Islamists playing the intersectionality card was during the Standing Rock protests of 2016. The Dakota Access Pipeline protest was led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe over the threat to tribe’s water supply. It was joined in by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and pro-Palestinian propagandists.

In the flat landscape — marked by tepees, vehicles, protesters and the flags of indigenous nations — flew another flag: that of Palestine.

There was also an official campaign launched to piggy back off the national success and sympathy of Standing Rock: From Palestine to Pipelines. It was, quite simply, parasitic.

Real solidarity through intersectional alliances means putting aside yourself for just enough time to truly honor the space for belonging and support someone whose needs you may identify with. In other words, it’s not about you; it’s about them.

Instead, Islamists (along with those comfortable with Islamism) are leeching onto iconic intersectionality markers as a means to shove their issue under the gate, gain sympathy and inflate their value.

This is exactly how I read a headline that draws on a lofty association with Rosa Parks, a woman who suffered actual racism and mistreatment through systematic abuse, not someone stomping their feet because they aren’t allowed to wear what they want to a swimming pool while still being able to do just about everything else they want in society.

This brings us to the burkini and the question of religious rights.

Is wearing the Burkini a Religious Right? 

To be crystal clear, a woman can wear whatever she wants. If a woman wants to dress modestly by wearing a burkini or any adaptation of one, she should have the right to. In the case of the burkini, the issue becomes a little more blurred when Muslim women call a specific garment a religious right, as was the case when the first burkini debates surfaced in 2016.

As I discussed earlier, there is no official uniform in Islam and the ongoing global squabbles over whether a hijab, niqab, burqa or burkini is a religious right is off-center. Islam carries no inherent religious demands in this area.

How we discuss the issues can and will be varied from thereon, but we must premise our discussion with teasing away what is religiously ordained versus what is worn based on perceived need or desire. These are two different things.

My Advice? If French law has a burkini ban, then find another mode of clothing that skirts around the official law. If you don’t like the law, work to change the law and public perception by integrating with the community as French citizens first and foremost. If you’re still not happy, find a different country to live in.



Sports Illustrated: Halima Aden Poses in Burkini

The Burkini Battle: What Really Happened in Corsica

Ban the Burqa, Allow the Burkini


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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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