On one of the last days of school last June, Ann Arbor resident Jumanah Saadeh, then 13, changed into long gym pants, a head covering and a long-sleeved collared shirt and joined her classmates from Ann Arbor Open School at the Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti.
The outfit was in accordance with Islam’s modesty requirements, but violated health and safety regulations at the pool and lifeguards ordered her out of the water.
“This was a terribly humiliating incident for her and she felt like she was forced to choose between her religious beliefs and her classmates,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
After six months of planning, the county’s Park and Recreation Commission is expected tonight to unanimously pass the first swimwear policy to accommodate individuals who cannot wear traditional swimsuits for religious reasons.
Washtenaw County is slated to become the first county in Michigan and possibly the nation to implement such a policy. . .
Executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Dawud Walid said his organization has received only a few similar complaints over the years but noted that may be because many Muslims avoid public pools strictly because of the clothing issue.
In Islam, females approaching puberty must have their head covered, and body covered from their neck to their ankles at all times in public, said Walid. The clothing should not be form fitting.
Males may be shirtless but must be covered from above the belly button to the knee cap in non-form fitting attire, he said.
Similar requirements are customary for Orthodox Jews and the Amish, county officials said.
The proposed policy, which will apply to all county aquatic facilities, is intended to provide guidelines that protect public health and safety while accommodating the diverse community. Street clothes and shoes remain prohibited in the water, but unlike the state regulations, the proposal defines street clothes.
The parks will accommodate those who cannot wear traditional bathing suits for religious reasons by permitting appropriate clothing with the following conditions:
Clothing must allow free movement of arms and legs and be free from hardware such as belts, buckles and rivets.
The clothing material must be lightweight as to not inhibit a patron’s movement or weigh them down in the pool. Fabric such as nylon, polyester, Lycra or thin cotton are acceptable.
Clothing also must not be so loose that it could cause entanglement, entrapment or strangulation in pool equipment.