Burqini babes go on patrol on Sydney's beaches


By Kathy Marks in Sydney 
Published: 05 February 2007 

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/australasia/article2237665.ece

Just over a year ago, Cronulla Beach in Sydney was the
scene of ugly race riots in which young white men,
many of them surfers, attacked anyone who looked
vaguely Middle Eastern. 

The violence was reportedly sparked by an attack on
two surf lifesavers - symbols of white Anglo-Saxon
culture - by a group of Lebanese youths.

Many predicted heightened racial tensions at Sydney's
beaches. Instead, Cronulla has become the scene of
reconciliation, with 17 young men and women training
there to become Australia's first Muslim lifeguards.
Last weekend they received the bronze medallions that
qualify them to patrol beaches and rescue swimmers
from the surf.

Among them were a number of women wearing a newly
designed head-to-toe swimsuit, dubbed the burqini. The
two-piece outfit - featuring leggings, a loose top and
a head covering - enables them to carry out their
tasks while conforming to the Islamic dress code.

Mecca Laa Laa, 20, one of the newly graduated
lifeguards, said it would give Australian Muslim women
the freedom to enjoy the beach while fulfilling their
religious obligations. "The point is to get women
active in the water, to encourage them to participate
in sporting activities ... and wearing the burqini
allows them to do that," she said.

Ms Laa Laa and other members of the group - of
Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Libyan backgrounds -
have been training the past four months, learning
about the undertows and rip currents that claim lives
every year.

The lifeguards were trained as part of a programme
called On The Same Wave, introduced by Surf Life
Saving Australia after the Cronulla riots. The
organisation worked with female trainees to design the
uniform. But the burqini has been embraced by Muslim
women generally. About 9,000 women in Sydney have
bought the swimsuits, which are endorsed by the
Australian Islamic Council. 





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