Muslim girl not allowed to skip swimming class

German court rejects her parents' appeal that even a burkini breached Islamic dress codes

BERLIN • Germany's highest court has ruled that ultra-conservative Muslim girls must take part in mixed swimming classes at school, ruling against an 11-year-old pupil who had argued that even wearing a burkini, or full-body swimsuit, breached Islamic dress codes.

The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe rejected an appeal by the girl's parents that she should be excused from the classes because a burkini did not conform with Islam's ethic of decency, German media reported.

A spokesman for the court could not be reached for comment.

Germany is in the grip of a heated public debate about the role of Islam in society as it seeks to integrate more than a million mainly Muslim asylum seekers who have entered the country since last year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives have been punished at the polls in regional elections by voters angry at her open-door policy, on Tuesday proposed a ban on full-face Muslim veils.

The girl's case before the lower courts was that a burkini revealed the shape of her body, something that went against her religion. The Constitutional Court noted that the lower courts had found this to be untrue, and further found there were "no binding rules in Islam" to define appropriate clothing.

The plan would make it a regulatory offence for women to cover their faces in courtrooms, administrative buildings and schools, as well as while driving or attending demonstrations. "Therefore the full veil is not appropriate here, it should be banned wherever it's legally possible," Dr Merkel said.

The call echoed proposals in France and other European nations to put restrictions on full- face coverings such as the burqa or other Islamic traditions for women such as the niqab, which shows only the eyes.

Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats, who have been losing support to the AfD, a populist party that says Islam is incompatible with the Constitution, toughened their tone on integrating migrants at a party conference this week.

Wednesday's ruling could give more credibility to future attempts by the government to ban the full-face veil after a parliamentary election next year.

The girl's case before the lower courts was that a burkini revealed the shape of her body, something that went against her religion.

The Constitutional Court noted that the lower courts had found this to be untrue, and further found there were "no binding rules in Islam" to define appropriate clothing.

Last summer, when debates broke out across Europe over the so-called burkini swimsuit, Dr Merkel and other German leaders said they favoured a partial ban on full veils.

Dr Merkel had said that "from my standpoint, a fully veiled woman scarcely has a chance at full integration in Germany".

The French beach town of Cannes recently banned the burkini. Nations such as France and the Netherlands have already instituted partial burqa bans.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Muslim girl not allowed to skip swimming class'. Print Edition | Subscribe