Two Somali-Norwegian brothers drowned to death last Wednesday in Svarttjern, Romsås (Oslo). The two were playing football when the little brother (9) jumped into the waters and started drowning. His brother (12) tried to save him. Neither could swim.
The boys' mother and older sister were there. When the police arrived, 15 people were there, and many of the witnesses said they couldn't swim.
The accident occurred next to a school and a play area.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
Islamic Council: Exempt children from mixed swimming classes
In a commentary in Aftenposten's paper edition, Mala-Wan-Naveen writes that many children in Oslo school seek exemptions from swimming classes. According to Naveen this is because the parents don't want their children to swim or do sports in mixed classes.
Shoaib Mohammad Sultan of the Islamic Council of Norway emphasizes that they think it's extremely important that all children learn to swim.
"Islam has basic rules on covering next to members of the opposite sex, which means that some parents will think mixed-sex swimming classes are problematic. In such situation it would be most appropriate to have dialog between the school and parents, to find practical solutions that take core of both the religious consideration, as well as the need for all students to learn to swim," says
Sultan says a possible solution for to avoid the mixing some Muslims are responding to is for students to get exemptions from the regular swimming classes. They would then be obligated to go to acceptable private lessons.
"I think it's fully possible to do this if you have the good will," says president Per Rune Eknes of Norway's Swimming Federation.
Eknes says that a study done last year showed that 50% of 10 year old in Oslo couldn't swim. Among ten year old of immigrant background that increased to 70%. Eknes thinks the most important thing is for children to learn to swim, not how they learn.
"Children of an immigrant background have a different culture, tradition and religion than we do, and therefore different codes for how to act next to others. Many ethnic Norwegians also have help from the parents with swimming skills, while the ratio is smaller among the multicultural," says Eknes.
Eknes supports the Islamic Council of Norway, who think it can be appropriate to take children out of ordinary swimming classes for religious reasons.
"It's not so important how it's done, as long as the youth learn to swim," Eknes says.
Eknes thinks that regardless, it's the school's responsibility to ensure that swimming training is satisfactorily completed.
Minority researcher at NOVA, Ada Engebrigtsen, told VG Nett that geography is also a factor in why children of immigrant background look poorly in swimming research.
"Many immigrant parents grew up in other places, with a different geography and a completely different attitude to water. Their experiences with swimming are therefore not as good," says Engebrigtsen.
She says it's serious that many children in Norway can't swim. According to the Norwegian curriculum, Norwegian schoolchildren should be comfortable in the water during 4th grade.
"The fact that many children don't have the same basis for learning to swim is a problem should should be taken seriously. They should get a good [training] offering," says Ingebrigtsen.
Gran School in Groruddalen teaches swimming in 4th, 7th and 10th grade. They also have an afternoon option and their own course for girls. Principal Anne Myhrvold says that swimming classes are obligatory and that they've adapted what they offer to meet the challenges.
"Those who want to swim with clothes that completely cover the body are allowed to do so. Additionally, we've introduced our own bathing suit with a hijab," she says.
The principal at Mortensrud school, Leif Arne Eggen, says he would like to offer more swimming classes to his students.
"But again it's a question of resources. If anything goes in, something must come out. Swimming can't come at the expense of writing or reading," he told VG.
The president of Norway's Swimming Federation completely disagrees.
"You don't die by not being able to read or write, but you do actually die by not being able to swim. As the last days have shown," says Per Rune Eknes.
Frp: "It's apartheid"
Mazyar Keshvari of the Oslo Frp (Progress Party) thinks the Islamic Council of Norway proposal is objectionable. He thinks it's wrong to divide children based on religion.
"The plan of the swimming federation and the Islamic Council of Norway resemble a type of apartheid. If Muslim children can't swim with others, what will be next? That they won't have gym together? You can't separate children based on religion," he told VG Nett.
Keshvari says that children should both play and swim together, regardless of religion and background. He doesn't understand Muslim parents who deny their children this.
"I don't have respect for such wishes, and I think the parents should being to act more civilized. I don't want to take their religion from them, but in 2010 you should look differently at this. It's more important that the children learn to swim, so that they don't risk getting drowned, then that they swim in mixed classes."
The Frp politician is supported by the head of the Oslo's Liberal Party, Ola Elvestuen. He says swimming classes are mandatory and must apply to all students.
"Muslim students can swim with body-covering clothes if necessary. Additional regulations can also be considered by the individual schools, but you can't give students exemptions from classes based on religious affiliation."
Elvestuen thinks there should be additional resources so that all students know how to swim.
"The schools and parents should have a closer and better dialog about the importance of swimming. Secondly we should strengthen the students' swimming skills," he says.
Keshvari is committed to increasing the focus on swimming - especially after the drowning accident where two bothers died in Romsås, Oslo, Wednesday.
"This can also be done by introducing swimming tests, just like the tests carried out in other subjects. Students who don't pass the tests, we'll put in extra resources. In this way you'll lift the weak students."
Mothers learning to swim
Nine women from India, Kurdistan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia try hard to keep their body afloat in the swimming pool in Lambertseter Pool in Oslo. They are on a week long water-acquaintance course.
"I'm in this course for the first time. I'm here because I'm afraid of landing in a dangerous situation where I can't swim," says Amina Abdullah (37) from Kurdistan.
The accident where two bothers drowned made the immigrant mothers in the swimming course very concerned.
Many minority children have parents who can't swim. The women think culture and religion are the reasons why neither they nor their children can swim well.
"Thirty years ago when I grew up in India, girls weren't allowed to learn to swim. The couldn't show their body in a bathing suit with men. Today the situation changed," says Karmjit Kaur (41).
Iranian Nagah Imran (47) is a believing Muslim and mother to four teenage girls. All four go every week to a swimming course for girls.
"Islam doesn't allow girls to swim together with boys," says Imran.
The statement makes Indian Deepak Mahal (33) see red.
"Religion is not more important than saving lives. Life should always come first."
Mahal wants even more swimming classes in the curriculum.
"My children had swimming classes just seven times during the school year. It's not enough," she despairs.
* Norway: Swimming classes for Muslim girls pose dilemma
* Oslo: Debate about segregated swimming classes
* Norway: 'there is no sneak Islamization here'
* Norway: County to adapt swimming classes for Muslim girls