Swimming by a young girl

Q635 :My husband insists that our duaghter, aged five, should learn swimming, although the only available facility is in a co-education class of children in the age group 4-8. He also wants her to attend gymnastic classes. He believes that girls should learn these sports, especially as we are living in the United States, with little prospect of returning to our Muslim home country. I have tried to persuade him to change his mind without any success. Could you please explain whether it is permissible for my young girl to attend such classes? If so, until what age?

A635 : This is a question which can be answered in a few sentences. However, I feel that it raises a number of points which merit a more relaxed discussion. The first is which religious duties are applicable to children. As you are well aware, the imposition of duties is closely related, from the Islamic point of view, to the concept of reckoning and reward in the hereafter. Obviously, the concept of reward or punishment being dependent on the fulfilment or negligence of duty presupposes not merely the availability of choice but also the ability to choose. This ability depends on the degree of maturity a person attains before he makes his choice. In Islam, religious duties do not apply, for example, to a person who is insane. Consequently, reward and punishment cannot be applicable to him. Similarly, children who have not yet attained the age of puberty are not answerable for the fulfilment of any Islamic duty. A child remains a child, and his or her sense of duty is not mature enough until adolescence. Even the adolescents vary in their maturity and ability to judge and choose. However, there must always be a dividing line which separates one stage from another. With regard to the applicability of religious duties, this dividing line is considered the attainment of puberty. What this means in effect is that no Muslim child is required to observe the duty of fasting in Ramadan before he or she attains puberty. If he offers the pilgrimage, he is rewarded for it, but that does not fulfil the pilgrimage duty which becomes applicable to him after he has attained puberty. This applies to all duties and prohibitions. If a child commits something forbidden, he is not punished for it in the same way as an adult. He may be reproached or even punished, (depending on the violation of which he is guilty), but the level of punishment is not the same as that of an adult who is guilty of the same violation. Having said that, I should add that we must always strive to bring up our children in such a way that helps them fulfil their Islamic duties when these become applicable to them. It is for this reason that the Prophet teaches us that we must get our children to start offering prayer when they are seven. When they become ten, we may punish them for neglecting prayer. We should also train them to fast so that when fasting becomes required of them they do not find it too hard. This again applies to the wide spectrum of Islamic duties. We should inculcate in our children all proper Islamic values so that they develop a good Islamic sense which helps them to always choose the Islamic way. A Muslim parent should always try to establish a good balance between these two considerations. While trying to inculcate in his children the love of Islamic values and duties, he should not impose on them a rigid attitude which may cause them to associate the fact that they are Muslims with being deprived of certain pleasures. The fact is that most social activities are permissible in Islam, although there may be certain restrictions on how they are used. For example, swimming is not merely permissible but also required to be taught to children. Yet, communal swimming when men and women use a beach or a swimming pool at the same time, wearing only swimming costumes, is forbidden. But when men and women use the swimming pool separately and they observe Islamic values, there is nothing wrong with their swimming. The Prophet describes this religion of Islam as"easy". Allah has not made it so in order that people do not find it too difficult to implement. He says: "This religion is made facile, therefore approach it gently. No one will try to pull this religion toward rigidity without being defeated." When you examine religious duties and requirements you are bound to conclude that ease is the very characteristic of this faith. Rigidity is alien to it. Nevertheless, people continue to impose too many restrictions on themselves and their families, oblivious of the fact that rigidity is more likely to be counter-productive. I knew a very good person who was studying in Europe, and who had two young daughters, aged eight and six. Wherever they went, his daughters were wearing the full Islamic dress required of adult Muslim women. I spoke to him about this and suggested that the young girls may find their dress too much of a burden. He explained that he wanted them to get used to dress in Islamic way. My discussion with him was unproductive. I tried hard to persuade him that he exposed his family to the danger of his daughters becoming rebellious when they grow older, feeling that the rigidity to which they had been exposed in their childhood has deprived them of many childhood pleasures. Maintaining a balanced view, I do not think that there is anything wrong with your five-year-old learning swimming with a co-ed class of her age group. Attending a gymnastic class may be very useful as well. You should not forget that the Prophet has emphasized that swimming is an art we should teach to our children. There is nothing in the Hadith which indicates that this is limited to boys. A girl may benefit much by learning swimming. However, you should begin to make her gradually aware that a grown up woman must never wear a swimming costume in front of men. When she is closer to the age of puberty, you can make sure that she never swims except in a 'woman-only' surrounding.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )