National Geographic News
Taylor, of Azizah Magazine, sees great market potential for sportswear more appropriate for Muslim women.
"In another 15 years there's going to be a sizeable Muslim consumer market and lots of demand," she said. "I think we're where the Hispanic market was 20 years ago, and today the Hispanic market is a big consumer market."
Arun Jain, a marketing professor at the University of Buffalo in New York State, agrees.
He says, given the growth potential of the Muslim community in the United States, major sportswear manufacturers could be missing out on an opportunity to break into an emerging market.
Yuka Nakamura, a doctoral candidate in physical education and health at the University of Toronto in Canada, has studied Muslim women's participation in sports.
She says there's definitely a need for modest sportswear, even beyond Muslim communities.
She cites a program at a pool in Calgary, Canada, that tried to encourage more Muslim women to take up swimming by allowing them to wear T-shirts in the pool.
"It wasn't just Muslim women who wanted this," she said. "An increasing number of women felt more comfortable being covered up and even larger men who felt uncomfortable in a bathing suit and preferred to be in a T-shirt."
Azizah's Taylor agrees. "It's not only Muslim women who are making attempts to be modest when they go out," she said.
"There's also a contingency of Christian women and Jewish women and others who just don't feel that they need to show their bodies. Other women are striving to be modest as well."
Austrade media release.
Ahiida Managing Director, Aheda Zanetti, said that although this outfit had been custom made for Ms Al Ghasara her company had been deluged with international orders from women wanting conservative sporting outfits since its inception five years ago. "Since Ahiida first came to media attention with our special Burqini Swimsuit for Aussie Muslim lifesavers, we have had significant interest in our unique conservative sportswear," said Ms Zanetti. "Our sportswear supports women who want, for whatever reason, to wear things that are modestly cut and have useful functions like keeping their hair out of their eyes whilst enjoying an active sporty lifestyle. "We are thrilled to be associated with Ruqaya who is a passionate and talented sportswoman and a great role model.
Amana Siddiqi loved swimming as a child but gave it up as a teenager because her Muslim faith required she fully cover her body in public. 'At age 15, I started to cover, so I stopped going to public pools,' said Siddiqi, now 27, whose parents come from India and Pakistan. 'Most of my friends stopped, too. They felt self-conscious.' Then last summer Siddiqi bought a specially made swimsuit that covers her body while allowing full motion -- and went snorkeling and rode watercraft and slides while on vacation in Hawaii.
Muslim girls and women are increasingly participating in athletic activities, especially as second- and third-generation children of immigrants grow up surrounded by American influences. But doing so requires them to overcome a seemingly large obstacle: Islam's traditional emphasis on modest dress. When it comes to water sports, the challenge can be even more difficult than in Muslim countries, where the sexes are often separated in pools and on beaches. America is predominantly coed, and increasingly the norm is skimpy swimsuits. Enter the new-and-improved all-body suit. While full-body swimwear has been around for decades, in the last couple years it has undergone a renaissance as the niche market has grown.
Today about a dozen stores, based in the United States and abroad, sell swimwear to Muslim-American women, mostly through online catalogues. A full suit can cost more than $100, with pants around $60, shirts at $25 and water scarves and hoods about $15. The material is high-tech. Synthetic combinations that include polyester, nylon and Lycra allow flexible movement in the water while not sticking to a woman's body when she exits the pool -- which could produce the opposite effect of modesty. The suits are also increasingly stylish, with aqua to purple to hot pink colors, intricate sequin designs and miniskirts that go over long pants. 'We want to be modest, but we also want to be fashionable,' said Shereen Sabet, who last year founded Splashgear, an online swimwear store for Muslim women based in Huntington Beach. Sabet, 36, a microbiologist at California State University, Long Beach, said she decided to get into the business while trying to reconcile the conflict between her Muslim faith and a love of scuba diving. She realized that many female Muslim friends completely avoided the water because of modesty concerns. 'Nothing in the Quran says women and men can't swim or scuba dive together,' said Sabet, whose parents are from Egypt. 'It's just a question of finding a solution.'
For Hayat Diab, 65, finding a solution has helped her deal with severe arthritis. Diab, originally from Syria, lives in an Irvine apartment complex that has several pools. She had never swam in her life until two years ago, when she got a special suit that includes long pants, long-sleeved top and a cap to cover her hair. 'When I go to the Jacuzzi, I feel all my joints relax,' Diab said. Her husband, Ibrahim Al-Tawil, 75, is a longtime swimmer who is now teaching his wife. 'We are happy to be together in the swimming pool,' he said.
Finding ways to navigate American culture and Islamic norms is a constant theme in Muslim focus groups, said David Morse, president of New American Dimensions, a multicultural marketing research company. 'There is a desire to assimilate and be seen as everyday Americans,' Morse said. 'But because of Muslim customs like clothing, it can be hard to fit in.'
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim women often hold swimming parties in private pools but added that the special suits and public swimming are becoming more popular. 'The suits basically protect women from the unwanted looks of men,' he said. For Sama Wareh, 23, a stylish suit helps her fit in while surfing. Before buying a Splashgear suit last year, she would go into the ocean wearing jogging pants, skirt and long-sleeved shirt. A lifeguard once asked her what others on the beach might have been wondering: ''Dude, are you like a Muslim surfer girl or something?'' she recalled. Now people are asking her where to buy one of the suits. 'A big reason why Muslim women don't do things in the water is it's embarrassing,' said Wareh, whose parents are from Syria. 'Once Muslim women see others doing it, they will too.'