Despite being a Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has no women-only swimming pools where a hijab-wearing Muslima can cool off or exercise. The situation has created an opportunity for local designers to produce swimwear specifically for Muslim women.
Dian Yasmina Fajri was once fished out of a public swimming pool by the lifeguard who considered her swimwear inappropriate. Failing to find suitable swimwear that complies with her commitment to wearing a hijab, Fajri began designing one for personal use.
"I enjoy swimming, but I couldn't find (appropriate) swimwear. Wearing other things than swimwear is forbidden in public pools, so finally I designed a new kind of Muslim swimwear which covers the entire body except the face and hands. This design balances between modesty, safety and comfort. This design also corresponds to Islamic guidelines," she told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Islam encourages believers to maintain health and physical fitness through athletic activities. However, under Sharia, Muslims are required to cover up their awrats -- parts of the body considered intimate that can only be shown to one's spouse or relatives/friends of the same sex.
"Many were interested with the swimwear I was wearing. Since then I received orders from individuals who wish to use similar swimwear. In 2004, I received 30 orders per month," Fajri said.
She named her swimwear line after one of her children, Kanz, which means treasure in Arabic.
The origin of halal swimwear is uncertain, but in Indonesia, it's been à la mode since 2004. Many shop owners and entrepreneurs consider it a new fashion.
In Tanah Abang – a Jakarta district which hosts Southeast Asia's largest textile market – individual buyers and resellers flock to purchase all fashion-related items imaginable, from sewing supplies and fabrics to ready–to-wear clothing in bulk.
"At present, demand for my swimwear has reached 300 to 400 pieces per month. My resellers in Tanah Abang have also begun to produce swimwear themselves to cover the increased demand," Dian said.
Muslim swimwear is popular not only among Indonesian Muslims, but also non-Muslims and foreigners. And modesty is not its only virtue.
Irmalia Septiana, a student at the State Islamic University of Jakarta, said that halal swimwear provides freedom of movement and sun protection as well.
"Muslima swimwear is the solution for me to do my activities freely. As a Muslim, I duly cover my awrats; covering them is a part of my identity as a Muslim. I began wearing the Muslim swimwear in the first semester of my freshman year. At first, I felt that the main benefit of the long sleeves swimwear was to cover nearly my entire body from the sun and protect me from getting uneven sunburn," Septiana said.
Fajri said the clientele for her swimwear is diverse, and that she increasingly takes orders from non-Muslims.
"Before, my clients are those who committed to wearing hijabs, but now there are also integral swimwear orders from non-Muslims. I have clients who are Balinese, Hindu and Chinese Indonesians, those who love to swim but don't want to get sun-baked," said Fajri who now accepts orders from social networks such as Facebook. "I dream that one day the Miss Universe pageant contestant from Indonesia, who usually suffers public taunting, would wear Kanz integral swimwear instead of a bikini," she said.
Meanwhile, there are signs that Muslim swimwear is going international. In 2007, the Ahiida label, founded by Lebanese-Australian Aheda Zanetti, coined and patented the word "Burqini", a portmanteau of burqa and bikini to define the full-coverage swimwear they produce.
Carmen Pai Daschke, an American Muslim, recalls wearing leggings and a big prayer dress over a T-shirt to swim when she taught English in Morocco – an outfit allowed in Moroccan public pools, though not in Indonesian ones.
Exercise is important for Islamic women, Carmen, a professor of religion in the US city of Atlanta, told Khabar via Facebook.
"In Islam, we (women) are told that we must learn to swim, ride a horse, and use a bow and arrow. So for me, swimming is important," she told Khabar.