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Muslim Fashion Designer Discusses The Burqini

Muslim fashion designer Aheda Zanetti (left) stands beside Australian model Mecca Laalaa wearing her Islamic swimsuit.

Muslim fashion designer Aheda Zanetti (left) stands beside Australian model Mecca Laalaa wearing her Islamic swimsuit.

Lebanese-born Aheda Zanetti, now an Australian citizen, is a Muslim fashion designer who created the "burqini" after reading about how difficult it was for women to swin in full burqas. She spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Kristin Deasy about the politics of Islamic fashion.

RFE/RL: How did you come up with the idea of a burqini?

Aheda Zanetti: [It was] something that I'd always wanted to do in the past: design something that would help modest women. Not just Muslim women, because I was not veiled at the time. But I was still modest; I had that conservative within. So it started off with the "hijood" sports top and continued on with the burqini swimsuit. I wanted to take away the symbol of a veil, because ... there was so much happening in regards to the terrorism, and September 11, and the London bombings, and [...] I wanted to give out that Western culture, that Western feel about it, without that symbol of a veil, of threat.

The burqini came up through a conversation that I had, and I was reading an article where...these Middle Eastern women, were entering the waters with their burqas, and to me a burqa was a full, like a full coat, like a full cover coat. So I looked up in the dictionary and found what a bikini stands for -- two-piece, small swimsuit -- so, considering that it is smaller than a burqa and, you know, two-piece like a bikini, so I thought, "Well, you know, burqini."

RFE/RL: What do you think of the burqini controversy in France, despite the fact that the woman expelled from the pool for wearing it was not wearing your brand? You invented the name, so it must have been a shock.

Zanetti: You know, the burqini name has always been political, it's always been a product of debate, and it's been a product of discussion, and a product of easy access to discrimination and racism. It's a target, it was easy access, it was in the media, it was something that they can discriminate against, they could use it...without actually discriminating against "the Muslim," if you know what I mean.

RFE/RL: In Uzbekistan, the authorities told women that they shouldn't be wearing hijab during Independence Day because they said its loose-fitting garments could hide bombs. Do you have an opinion on this?

Zanetti: You don't have to be a Muslim to be a terrorist. You don't have to be a Muslim to hide a bomb. You don't have to be a Muslim to create trouble. Really, I can hide a bomb in my undies. I can! I can walk around with my undies on and hide a bomb in them. Really. Bombs are getting smaller and sharper. You know, I can hide it there. Do you understand what I'm saying? People are transferring drugs from one corner to another through just swallowing them in their gut, for gosh sake. I mean, grow up! Really.