May 30, 2011

Vacay Episode One: Get Out Of The Pool You Veiled Woman! Oh, JK, My Bad!

So I really don't know what to write about vacation but I'll just start with what stuck out right from the start.

The trip was short, Well, once we got out of Hurghada it was. We had to make a few stops. Goggles for E, the bank, Drinks and gum, We even stopped to get new sandals for the kids. I opted for a pair of Stan Smiths. Two hours later, we arrived. I had made a playlist and sang along the whole way, so it flew by.

The entrance was pretty and we checked in, soon we got our rooms, 2 adjacent ones with patios, right near the pool. It was about 3 pm and the kids wanted to go swimming so we went. I donned my hijabi swimwear and suncreened the kids up and off we went to the pool.  Right off the bat, it was clear that while there weren't a ton of guests, we were the only Egyptian family.

I dipped my foot in, it felt warm and Zayneb had already jumped in.  I eased in and was filled with that rush of happiness and excitement. Not a minute in the pool and one of the men working there asked me to get out. At first he said it would be a problem with the guests, then when I said we go to plenty of hotels and it's not a problem, he said it's a rule , only 1 or 2 piece suits. So, dejected and meekly, I got out. I sulked a bit in disbelief on a nearby chaise long and the girls commiserated and said how unfair it was. I was just thinking, really? I'm going to spend 5 days on the sidelines? I went back to the room to change because I wasn't happy to sit there, wet. E was still in the room and I told him what happened as I started to get my clothes. He said, screw that, go back in the pool and if anyone has anything to say about it, tell them to speak to me. I was like YEAH! Fight the power!

So I go back to the pool side and sit for a minute, trying to work up the nerve to either tell the guy to take it up with my husband or to just go back in the pool when a different guy came up to me and said, we were mistaken. In fact he called the manager and asked and said it was ok as long as it was swimwear material or not cotton.

So it was all good and I was so relieved but the whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that people had a problem with me. Not foreigners but the Egyptian workers. A couple of more times someone said that what I was wearing was not allowed (It's a big resort), but I assured them we'd okay-ed it with the manager. I really felt like it was a case of Egyptian's worrying about appearing too Muslim in front of the foreigners when I found the foreigners to be quite unfazed, friendly and smiley. I actually enjoyed breaking a stereotype or two when I'd ask one of them for the time in English. None of us wore a watch or brought our phones to the pool or the aqua park. I love the look of surprise/confusion when they heard me :).

 I got a lot of stares but I didn't let it spoil my fun. I had a blast. Even just at meals people would stare just unabashedly. I thought to myself, a lot of these tourists come to the resort on holiday straight from the airport and I might be the only Egyptian woman they see on their trip. I made it up in my head that they would go back home tell  all their mates at the pub they saw a real live Muslim woman , swimming! And, get this, she wasn't oppressed and she had fun and went on water slides and wore Adidas to dinner!

I've since learned from a discussion I had with some local women, that there are a lot of places here that don't allow women in hijab to swim. Some won't even be given sunbeds or enter the beach area! What on earth, right? This is Egypt! If someone has a problem with hijab, they are in the wrong country.

It's also a class issue. You'll notice that the more well off people are in Egypt, in general, the less hijab is observed. So in swanky country clubs or "nadys"  and in high end resorts, a lot of the time you'll run into this problem. I think if they allow women to sunbathe topless or in next to nothing, they should let me wear whatever the heck I want. I do realize that I was allowed to wear what I wanted but the fact that there was a snag and that it happens so often is a problem.

What do you think? Is there really any problem with swimming covered up or is it just Egyptians assuming that foreign guests will have a problem with it? 


  1. I think it is more a case of Egyptians thinking that foreigners have a problem with it. I remember witnessing a similar situation to the one you experienced in Sharm El Sheikh where we were holidaying. There was an Egytian woman with her children and husband in Hijabi swimwear and like you she was told that it wasn't allowed and that she needed to get out of the pool. From where I was sitting it looked like it was made from proper swimwear material. A short distance from us there was a European girl wearing only her Bikini bottoms. Yes, thats right. Completely topless with just Bikini bottoms on. In Egypt. A muslim country where that sort of thing is supposed to be illegal.No one said anything to the foreign girl yet the modestly dressed Egyptian woman was asked to get out of the pool.The womans husband started to complain and my husband started to join in as well.Unbelievable!

    Looks like you have a lovely time, El Queseir is definitely on my list of places to go

  2. I was a bit stunned by your post. I mean, in the US I've seen that type of ignorance (although here they are normally too afraid of a lawsuit to do anything!) but in a Muslim majority country?

    Say whaaat? I am so happy your husband wasn't gonna put up with it; you all were paying guests, you had on a bona-fide swimsuit.

    I think you are right, they were afraid your "Muslimness" would scare off the tourists. Whatever.

  3. Where you at sharm al sheikh??Anyway.. I know that the Egyptian workers are very ignorant about foreigners.. they think all non-muslims have a problem with Hijab or anything obviously islamic which is by the way not true in the slightest. I've noticed the workers will be all nice to the woman in a bikini but so cold with a woman covered up.. I stayed at a resort at sharm and this is what I saw.. but anyway, I have realised that they have no clue that westerners couldnt really care less what you wear or how you wear it...

    If i were you, I would have made a formal complaint about the worker.

  4. Ruby Tuesday, Yea, same thing here. An Egyptian guy working in the beaches/resorts here is often so accustomed to topless women that they can talk to them, look them in the eye and talk about massage service or hair braiding, drink orders whatever and the same guy will sort of lower his gaze while talking to me.

    Umm Aminah, yea it's a sort of self hate kinda thing. Egyptians ashamed of their Egyptianess.

    Sarah Muhammad, No El Quesir, I know. Most poeple here are shocked to learn that I wore hijab and abaya in the US. I'm thinking of writing to them.

  5. salam! i read this entire post with my mouth hanging OPEN! it thorougly irritated me and im so so so glad that your hubby was going to stomp his foot a bit and really was hoping that he got a chance to do so. how sad that the good, modest egyptian woman is not "allowed" to enjoy herself in the touristy places. before i married and egyptian and before i was a muslim, i totally respected all egyptians and the culture and never ever thought that anyone should change anything for me as a visitor...on the contrary, i wore very modest clothing whenever i traveled to egypt so as not to insult.

    speaking of...that was part 2 of what irritated me. the idiotic women who dare to go topless. THAT should be stopped, not a woman in a scarf. ya Allah!

  6. I'm sorry they did that to you. That's not fair. It's ok for people to go in bikinis but not be modestly dressed to swim?? That's just wrong. I'm really glad your husband said that he would say something to them.

    I also think it's a case of Egyptians thinking foreigners will have a problem with seeing a covered woman swimming.
    I would think that the foreigners would have more of a problem seeing the covered women sitting by the pool not being able to swim. That is what people will have a problem with. They'll go home and tell their friends 'covered women aren't allowed to swim, can you believe that? blah blah blah'

    I've seen it with Turkish people, they don't want to 'scare off' the non-Muslims but at the same time are hurting Muslims.

  7. if they had told me to get out of the pool i would have blown up and demanded my money back, promising to leave the hotel and go to the media.
    they dont care about what material your outift is made from - it is entirely about the look.
    these tourist are coming to the middle east so im pretty sure they expect and wouldnt mind seeing the odd hijabi here and there. if they werent ok with it then they wouldnt have hopped on the plane in the first place.
    i have gone swimming here in australian pools in normal clothes (black tights, cotton long tops and normal hijab) and not once has anyone ever said something.
    i think its just like you said - people just want you out for the look.

  8. wow, thats an attitude i'd expect in america more than egypt! i think you are right that it was more about the look than anything - shame on them!! im glad you ended up standing your ground. i know here my husband wears an underarmor type shirt with his swim trunks and workers have tried to even tell him he cant, so i've never bothered to even try a full body wet suit let alone hijabi wear :/

  9. Jana Z. Salam, I'm glad it didnt' come to that but it's really messed up the way they think.

    Melissa, You make a really good point. It looks bad to have the women sitting by the sidelines.

    Ange, I know, it's ridiculous. Walking on eggshells for people who don't care is stupid.

    Lala,It crossed my mind to get those rash guard shirts for the kids to protect their shoulders/back when they got sunburned, wonder if they'd have a problem.

  10. Well, I'm not an Egyptian, not a Muslim, not a hijabi. In fact, I come from Hungary where you only get to see hijabis on TV. However, I am a spiritual, open-minded and curious person, so I did learn a lot about Islam (even took Islamic courses at the uni) and regularly read some cool Muslim blogs, too. :) I always have to remind people that Muslim women are not oppressed, and if they happen to be, it has nothing to do with their religion. In fact, Muslim women were the first in history who had been allowed to have their own property (the nikah-gift) even before Jewish or Christian women could dream of financial independence from their father, brother or husband... And I often explain people that hijab is not a form of oppression, but rather a conscious spiritual decision to please the Lord and distance the woman's real values from the sex-centered modern society we are living in.

    So, even though I have never seen anyone swimming in a burkini or longer swimwear, I definutely do not mind it. I would not feel uncomfortable or weird in a holiday resort if something like that happened. Actually, I have total respect for people like you, Mona who make real sacrifices to please your Creator - even though I chose a different path to do the same.

  11. Eszter, Thank you for your kind, thought out, intelligent comment. There should be more people in the world like you.

  12. That rings so many bells!not only that I stopped swimmin in hotels since I got veiled!coz me myself never liked the waY hIjabi women looked in the sea;pool!either with that mailloh they call it shar3y n I don't see it so anyway or with a divin suit! Honestly I never liked the way it looked. However I am a big fan of swimming and sea! N hv trouble with only sittin by sea side n watchin ppl swim! That's why ii always head to marina where there is a beAch for ladies only or to the pool whenever its for ladies to practise my passion!but I never thought that I would b wearin any of those suits! Until I noticed last summer that hijabi women r a lot n in big resorts as you mentioned in hurgada and sukhna I saw! N they were in those suits iin the sea n the hotel is totally fine with it as long as in the sea!not allowed for them to step in the pool!which is weird!as long as its allowed it should be allowed anywhere!and I agree with you on that as long as they permit ppl sunbathe topless then others have the right to do it Their way!me I still travel n suffer that I can only sit by the sea side as I don't dare to be seen in sucha suit!n I miss swimming a lot!

  13. Anonymous5:10 AM

    There are so many levels of wrongness in your experience Mona! I am fuming at the very idea they would order you out of the water. My mind is reeling. :(
    I do love your husband's reaction however!

  14. Batates_777, I really stopped caring and started enjoying the water. Hope you get to swim soon.

    Lizze, yea, It was rectified pretty quickly, thankfully but yea I liked E's reaction too.

  15. this is absolutely ridiculous. And for it to happen in Egypt makes it seem about a thousand times more ridiculous. Im glad you stood your ground and that your husband was going to stand up for your rights. Ridiculous!!!!

  16. Khadra, I know, right?

  17. Tahasmum10:36 PM

    Glad you enjoyed yourself in spite of everything, Mona!
    I was in Sharm a few years ago, and experienced something similar to this, but as you said, the foreigners don't seem to mind, it's the Egyptians :-S. La hawl wa la qowata illa bEllah!
    I've been in our complex's pool here the US with my shar3y swimsuit and so far, no-one has said a word... lotsa stares though :-D

  18. Tahasmum10:40 PM

    Oh I also wanted to second you on Eszter... the world would be better place with more ppl like you Eszter :-)

  19. Tahasmum, I know about the stares! :)

  20. Anonymous8:38 PM

    I think it's a 3rd world coutry thing...Wait, is Egypt considered 3rd world? forgive my ignorance...

    Anyway, the Philippines is like that too in the sense where they will go above and beyond to cater to foreigners and letting their own suffer or look bad.

    I'm very happy you and E stuck to your guns...fight the power is right!


  21. Bzmomma, I think it is. Is there an official list? Yea, it's messed up how that works.

  22. Anonymous6:57 AM

    Thank you so much Mona for this post!
    I just came across this blog right now cuz' i really wanted to know what hejaabis are suppose to do at a resort.
    I'm getting married in July, and we chose a resort in Jamaica, it was all amazing, the rooms look nice, the activities and everything. Then, it started to hit me, that I may be the only hejaabi there and what if people say something, it would totally ruin everything.
    But, reading this blog, made me feel SO much better!
    Thanks Mona!!!

  23. Hello,

    I have had the same problem during my stay in the Citadel Azur sahl hashish : they prevent women to use the pools and the outdoor jaccuzis for health reasons !!When you enter the hotel , they provide you with a piece of paper that shows what is allowed and what is not allowed in the pools, when we asked to have this paper stamped they definitly refused to do so which menas that it is not legal .

    I believe it is a 100% discrimination issue and when we asked to meet the German manager he was very rude and simply told us: if you won't obey my rules please leave the hotel !!
    This would never happen with a toursit complaining about something he does not like in the hotel !
    It is shame that we , Egyptians , are traited in such a rude way .
    I have sent an official complain to the the Azur top management but as expected no one cares !
    I believe that we must send a complain to the Egyptian ministry of toursim to stop those ridiculous rules in an islamc country where 60% of women are veiled or may be more.
    I have to add that these regulations should have been posted on the hotels website so that people have to choice to go or not to go .
    I am really frustrated !


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