Muslim Hate of Bikinis
Egyptian Beach Succumbs to Veil as Alexandria Loses Its Diversity
By Daniel Williams
August 11, 2009 (Bloomberg) -- Along miles and miles of crowded beachfront in Egypt’s second city, women in bathing suits are nowhere in sight.
On Alexandria’s breeze-blown shores, they all wear long- sleeve shirts and ankle-length black caftans topped by head scarves. Awkwardly afloat in the rough seas, the bathers look like wads of kelp loosened from the sandy bottom.
The scene would be unremarkable in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where hiding the feminine body is mandated by Islamic-based strictures. In Alexandria -- a storied town of sensuality and openness -- the veiled beachgoers, coupled with sectarian conflicts, represent the loss to some residents of a valued, diverse identity in favor of religious uniformity.
“Here is the front line of a battle between secularists and Islamic fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Awad, director of the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center, part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, itself an evocation of the ancient library whose reputation for scholarship helped give the city its pluralistic credentials.
If the issue were only bathing attire -- or the gradual disappearance of alcohol from open-air seaside cafes to avoid insults from passing pedestrians -- the phenomenon might be just a curiosity. But there are sharper signs of intolerance: increasing Christian-Muslim clashes unfamiliar to old Alexandrine eyes.
‘They Will Die’
On April 4, a Muslim man was allegedly stabbed by his Coptic Christian landlords in a dispute over garbage collection, according to a July 30 report by the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human-rights watchdog. When the man died the next day, Muslims praying at a mosque in the city’s Karmouz district chanted “they will die” and then trashed Christian-owned stores, the report said.
Similar events in the past three years include Muslims storming homes they said were Coptic churches functioning without government permit. Copts, about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, are an indigenous denomination founded in Alexandria around 61 A.D.
The violence is particularly striking in a city whose skyline is dotted by minarets and church steeples and where, at least in the memory of Alexandrian novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, religion hasn’t always triggered public disputes. He has written two novels of Alexandria’s 20th-century past, with longing for a kind of golden age of diversity.
“I wish we could go back to being the city of Cleopatra,” said another author, Haggag Oddoul, in an interview.
The Alexandria of lore emerged as a major 19th century transshipment port with Europe, celebrated by Arab, Egyptian and Western writers as a cosmopolitan paradise where sailors mingled at cafes with exiles from Syria and Greece, businessmen from Italy, and, eventually, women in sundresses.
In 1956, Great Britain and France, with the help of Israel, invaded Egypt to recover control of the recently nationalized Suez Canal, through which nearly one-tenth of world trade now passes. The attempt failed, and communities of Greeks, Armenians, Italians, French and Jews fled as the definition of Egypt narrowed to an Arab nation in a homogenous Arab world.
Since then, Alexandria has become home to oil refineries that have helped swell its population to more than 5 million. The immigrants, many from Egypt’s overcrowded countryside, submerged the scene in a tidal wave of poverty and ideology.
Now, Arab nationalism and Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism have a new rival: the push for an Islamic Egypt. Abdel Meguid attributes this to influence from conservative Persian Gulf nations -- in particular Saudi Arabia, a destination for thousands of Egyptians seeking work.
“We are no longer a universal city of song, dance, culture and art,” he said.
Awad’s center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina strives to reverse that trend, spreading “internationalism” and promoting “a healthy spirit of diversity, pluralism and interaction among civilizations,” according to its Web site. And yet “the library is an island,” he said.
The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition force, has its major base of support in the city, according to national press accounts. There, as in other Egyptian urban centers, the Brotherhood provides health care, subsidized food and social services for the poor.
The group is the prototype for Islamic political parties across the Middle East -- and nostalgia for a legendary multicultural past doesn’t guide its agenda.
“At the end of the day, that’s all history,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood member of parliament.
A leaflet advising women on proper Islamic coverings is posted in the lobby leading to Saleh’s office. Caftan and long head scarf are correct. A skimpy head scarf accompanied by jeans is wrong.
Christian-Muslim tensions aren’t a symptom of intolerance but of “insults” to Islam by Copts, he said. “Sometimes, secular activists try to raise the pressure on us by saying Muslims are against Christians.”
Alexandria needs “stable” community values, he insisted. Sensuality, if it means sexuality, is not part of the social equation. Even the library -- with its museum that includes pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic relics -- is misguided, Saleh said.
“There, Islam is just one topic among many. We don’t like those naked Greek statues. Anyway, that’s over. Islam should have a special status at the library,” he said. “This is a Muslim city in a Muslim country; that is our identity.”
'Bikinis and booze caused
Simon Kearney in Surabaya
AUSTRALIANS had declared a moral war on Muslims in Indonesia with their drinking and skimpy clothes in Bali, the eldest brother of three of those responsible for the 2002 attacks said yesterday.
Muhammed Khozin told The Australian at his home in Tenggulun, East Java, that his community didn't care about the October 1 Bali bombings because they were not linked to people from his village.
Mr Khozin's younger brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas were sentenced to death and Ali Imron to life imprisonment for their roles in the attacks on the Sari Club and Paddy's bar, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Mr Khozin said the behaviour of Westerners in his country was to blame for the radicalism adopted by his brothers.
"Alcohol, bikinis, that kind of thing makes Muslims angry. Don't do that when visiting a country with a Muslim majority," he said. "I'm sorry, Australian culture makes war on morality. They come to Bali with bikinis, they make war on morality. Not physical war, morality war. Respect the culture and religion of Indonesia."
His son, 19-year-old university student Afif, said there would be no end to terrorism while Australians continued going to Bali and behaving without respect for Muslim culture.
He believed the first Bali bombing committed by his uncles was justified because it discouraged tourists in Bali. "If Muslims died in that action, the Muslims will go to heaven," he said.
Afif said Muslims and Christians would only live side by side when Christians learned to respect Muslim culture.
Mr Khozin runs the Al-Islaman boarding school in the village that he founded with his late father 30 years ago. Such schools, known as pesantren, are seen as a breeding ground for terrorists.
He said if Canberra wanted to stop radicalism in Indonesia, it should teach Australians to be more respectful of Islam.
Moreover, Australia could help fund facilities at Islamic schools like his, which are mainly in poor areas and are under-resourced, to help better educate Muslims in Indonesia.
"Please give to us because maybe that's the way to make the relationship with Indonesia and Australia better," he said.
He taught his students the concept of "dakwah", which means to confront people who do things that are wrong and tell them to stop.
But he did not subscribe to the view of radicals that they should act to physically erase something they did not agree with.
His brothers had a different view of Islam to his but he believed they were still good people. He called on the Indonesian Government to return them to their community, where they could be rehabilitated.
"The community have a dream. If Amrozi came back here, he will do things like that."
By Holly Byrnes
August 29, 2006
MISS World hopeful Sabrina Houssami says she will defy Muslim teaching and wear a swimsuit in her bid to win the crown next month.
The university student, 20, yesterday rejected criticism by local Muslim leaders after they condemned beauty pageants as "a slur on Islam''.
Ms Houssami, a Muslim Australian from Georges Hall in Sydney's southwest, said while her religion was a “private matter”, her charity work for the pageant made her a “positive role model for all young women”.
“I try to treat people well and I don't see why wearing a swimsuit in a contest which raises so much money for charity would be against the rules,” she said yesterday.
Ms Houssami, who has raised $1.2 million for charity as part of her pageant bid said her record of public service was fitting as it was “one of the pillars of Islam”.
But Muslim leaders have criticised beauty pageant contestants for putting their “modesty” on display.
Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran criticised aspiring model Ayten Ahmet, 16, after she recently entered the Miss Teen Australia pageant as a role model for teenagers.
Sheik Mohammed caused outrage this year when he claimed the US Government was behind the September 11 attacks and declared Osama bin Laden an innocent man.
“The teachings of the Prophet and the Holy Koran do not encourage a girl to go out and uncover her modesty in public,” he said of Ms Ahmet.
Ms Ahmet, a Muslim of Turkish heritage, said
she had not entered the contest to make a religious statement.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils stopped short of defending her yesterday.
“There are parts of this story that Islam
allows and parts it prohibits,” AFIC president Rahim Ghauri said.
A Muslim group called for Miss Indonesia to face indecency charges when she wore a bikini last month.
The women's chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front wanted Indonesian authorities to prosecute Nadine Chandrawinata, claiming she “intentionally and openly engaged in indecency” by taking part.
Meanwhile, Ms Houssami goes to a lunch with Premier Morris Iemma tomorrow, before flying out for the pageant finals in Poland on Thursday.
7th September 2006
A prize winning bikini contest model who claimed she was the Pakistani representative has sparked outrage in the predominantly muslim country.
Stunning Mariyah Moten, 22, won the 'Best in Media' title - for being the most photographed and interviewed contestant - at the pageant in the Chinese resort of Beihai.
But furious Pakistani authorities say she did not have permission to represent the country, where many women only go out in public covered in a veil.
They are now threatening the model, who grew up in Pakistan but holds a US passport after she moved there eight years ago, with restrictions on entering her homeland.
"We have asked our missions in Washington and Beijing to investigate this because it is against our policy, culture and religion," senior Culture Ministry official Abdul Hafeez Chaudhry said.
"She is an American passport holder. She is an American national of Pakistani origin, so how did she get entry as a Pakistani?"
Moten, a student of hotel management at the University of Houston, was born and brought up in the Pakistani city of Karachi.
Mr Chaudhry said Pakistan - which does not hold beauty contests - might take the issue up with China, depending on the result of the investigation.
He also said the government might withdraw from Moten special privileges offered to people of Pakistani descent such as visa-free travel to Pakistan.
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