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Muslim swimsuit lets Indonesian women jump in the pool
Jakarta | April 08, 2008 9:45:06 AM IST
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Sonya Chaterina loved swimming as a child, but the fun stopped when she reached puberty.

"Then we to had to cover our arms, legs and our hair," said the Indonesian Muslim. "A bathing suit was from then on no longer an option. I was very disappointed."

For millions of Muslim women like Chaterina swimming is more complicated than just jumping into the water.

Though most Indonesians practise a tolerant form of the religion, which sometimes incorporates Hindu and animist beliefs, women are still obliged as Muslims to cover their bodies, leaving only their face and palms of their hands exposed.

A regular swimsuit is too skimpy and is considered a violation to Islamic teaching.

Chaterina, 29, a housewife and mother of two, was frustrated at becoming her husband's deposit counter, caring for his glasses and wallet, while he swam with their kids at one of Indonesia's many water parks.

Then she met Ait Djajaleksana, a young mother with the same dilemma of not being able to join her daughters in the swimming pool. Djajaleksana, frustrated that she couldn't find a conservative swimsuit in the stores designed a "from head to ankle" spandex Islamic bathing suit.

"When my wife and I started making this swimsuit, it was merely for personal purposes," said Anom Djajaleksana, 45, who lives in south Jakarta.

"I didn't want to be the one who always has to take our kids to the swimming pool," Anom said laughing, "I want my wife to do the chore also."

Ait's design proved to be a hit, and orders for the suit started to flow in.

"We sew between 150 and 200 pieces in a month," said Anom, who quit his banking job to run with his wife SAMIRA, the design line the couple named after their daughters, 11-year-old Sabitha, and seven-year-old Amira.

A SAMIRA one-piece suit covers the body head to toe and has a loose shirt that comes in a variety of printed over it so it is not revealing when wet.

"Now, I can also play with my kids in the water, and be healthy," said Chaterinas, who has become a model and spokesperson for the product.

When wearing a SAMIRA suit at the swimming pool Chaterinas said she is always approached and asked about where to get one.

The bathing suit, which sells for 225,000 rupiah ($25), is available online as well as in stores nationwide.

Their workshop in Bintaro, south of Jakarta, is having a hard time acquiring enough Lycra and Spandex material to meet the demand in a country where 90 per cent of the 230 million population are followers of Islam.

"I also think that some women in general, regardless of their religion, sometimes have the 'self-confidence' issue regarding their body shapes, so many of us are not comfortable wearing just regular swimsuits available in the market," said Siti Aisyah, a 38-year-old engineer in Jakarta who has been wearing a veil for 20 years.

With very few public swimming pools holding female-only sessions, Indonesian women wanting to swim a few laps have to mix with men in public pools.

"Many of us don't have access to private pools, so we have to juggle on how to cover ourselves," Aisyah said.

"I don't encourage people to cover up, it's their own choice," Anom Djajaleksana said. "But I am happy if Muslim women are free swimming with this suit like my wife does," he said.




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