Aussie "burqini" designer creates athletic veil

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - First, the burqini, now the hijood. The Australian designer of the full-length swimwear for conservative Muslim women has created special headgear for athletes seeking to win glory without compromising their faith.

Women activists of the hardline Islamic group Jamaat-i-Islami take pictured in Karachi July 31, 2008. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Bahrain’s Olympic sprinter Rogaya Al Ghasara is set to become the first athlete to compete in the “hijood”, a combination of the words “hijab” or veil and “hood”, on Tuesday in Beijing.

Designed by Aheda Zanetti, managing director of Australian firm Ahiida, the hijood is breathable, fits snuggly like a hood and covers the hair and neck in accordance with Islamic custom.

“I’m excited that an athlete has gone to the Olympics and there is a possibility that she will achieve gold, with a tiny bit of help from me,” Zanetti told Reuters.

Retailing for about 65 Australian dollars ($56), the hijood was inspired by Zanetti’s young niece who wears the hijab and who also likes to play netball. “As I watched her, I wanted to make Muslim women’s lives more comfortable and bring them out of the closet,” she said.

Zanetti said she first heard of runner Al Ghasara eight years ago at the Sydney Olympic Games and met up with her in Malaysia in 2007, when she approached her to try the hijood.

A statement from the Australian trade commission Austrade quoted Al Ghasara as saying the hijood allows her to “combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture controlled fabric that allows freedom of movement”.

Zanetti’s desire to make Muslim women fit in led her to design and retail the lycra burqini, a play on the words “burqa” and “bikini”. The swimwear resembles a diving suit -- complete with long sleeves and legs -- but isn’t too figure-hugging and comes with a hijab head-covering.

It was used by Muslim lifesavers on Australia’s beaches last year as part of a program aimed at defusing racial tensions which sparked riots between ethnic Lebanese Australians and white Australia youths at Sydney’s Cronulla beach in 2005.

Like many Muslim women who grow up in non-Muslim societies, Zanetti, who is of Lebanese origin, faced the challenge of designing sports attire that adhered to Islam’s dress code and was acceptable to sports-mad Australians.

“Australia is so focused on sport and it’s really compulsory for us to start learning how to swim at a young age,” she said.

“I thought, I’m not only going to provide a garment for these girls to actually go out and participate in sport, I am going to give them one they can be comfortable in too.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy