The staff at a public pool in Wilmington, Delaware, recently ejected modestly dressed Muslim children who ran afoul of an unpublicized and possibly nonexistent rule against cotton swimwear.
Kids enrolled in the Darul-Amaanah Academy's Arabic Enrichment Program, a summer day camp, have been using Wilmington's Foster Brown Pool for 4 years. In accordance with their Muslim faith, they wear cotton shorts, shirts, and headscarves. That attire was never an issue until this summer when the city decided to enforce a ban on cotton swimwear without notifying pool visitors of the rule.
"There's nothing that's posted that says you can't swim in cotton," camp director Tasihyn Ismaa'eel told Delaware Online. "If it's a rule, it's never been enforced." At the pool, the only attire that was explicitly banned was "cut-off jeans."
Last week, the pool employees asked Ismaa'eel and her campers to leave, initially citing the swimwear rule before switching rationales and claiming the pool was at full capacity. Pool staff eventually enlisted the help of a police officer who was parked outside. The Independent reports that the officer pressured the campers to leave, claiming that people were "outside waiting" to use the pool.
Naveed Baqir, executive director of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, told Delaware Online such incidents are familiar in his community. Years ago, he faced similar discrimination as he tried to swim in a public pool with his legs covered. "For my own children, I'd rather pay the money and be treated like everyone else rather than putting myself in an anxiety situation," he said. Like Baqir, many Muslims in Wilmington use private pools, such as one in Elkton, Maryland, about 20 miles away.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki was at first unsympathetic to the campers, saying everyone should wear "proper swimming attire." Facing pressure from local critics, Purzycki retracted his initial comments. "We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed the incident," he said in a statement the following Saturday. "We also referred to vaguely worded pool policies to assess and then justify our poor judgment in reacting to it, and that was wrong."
Ismaa'eel said some of her students come from low-income households and cannot afford religious swimwear made of approved fabrics such as nylon. As a result of the publicity surrounding this incident, Darul-Amaanah Academy has received offers to cover the expense.