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Sun Worshippers

Muslim women in Malaysia have taken to the new burqa- bikini combination like fish to water, says Lucy E Cousins

As waves lap gently against the shore at Malaysia’s Sunway Lagoon – South-East Asia’s largest artificial beach – a boy and his father splash around playfully while nearby, the boy’s grandmother stands in ankle-deep water, holding up the hem of her heavy burqa so it doesn’t become wet.

It’s here that Muslim women are embracing a solution to a universal concern: how to dress appropriately for swimming? The answer arrived a few years ago in the form of a trademarked design that has quickly become part of the vernacular: the Burqini.

Created in 2004 by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, the Burqini is a lightweight, body- covering, two-piece swimsuit with attached “hijood” (combination hijab and hood). Essentially, it allows Muslim women to swim in public, while still respecting their religious traditions.

The swimsuit has been welcomed by Muslim women thanks to the freedom it offers. Yet, this new fashion entry hasn’t escaped controversy. Some Muslims believe that the material, when wet, still reveals too much of the female form.

However, in Malaysia, whose population of more than 25 million is 60% Muslim, there is no restriction, or for that matter, enforcement of “modest swimwear” rules.

So at Sunway Lagoon, girls in bikinis frolic alongside others in burqa-bikinis. Located 30 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur, Sunway Lagoon is a microcosm of modern Malaysia’s cultural melting pot. There are five amusement parks, a surf beach, an “erupting” volcano and luxury accommodation facilities.

“I love to spend the whole day on the rides,” says Heba, 24, a student from Kuala Lumpur clad in the new-style swimwear. “I could never do this in my burqa.” As if to illustrate the extent to which Malaysia has accepted the burqa-bikini, the shops at Sunway Lagoon are full of colourful examples, including creations by Malaysian designers, who tend to favour patterns, bright colours and the traditional A-line silhouette.

It’s their flair and attention to detail that has earned Malaysian women their reputation for stylishness. At shopping malls in the capital, women can be seen decked out in brightly coloured and sleekly designed tudung (headscarves). But it is at Sunway Lagoon where the clearest evidence of the ongoing fashion revolution in Malaysia can be found. Some Malaysian women even wear modesty swimwear without the hood, blending in with tourists clad in outfits designed to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. The results are harmonious in more ways than one.


From haunted houses to tube rides and slides, Sunway Lagoon and its theme parks offer plenty of fun in the sand and sun for families who can’t make it to the coast. It’s open daily except Tuesdays and visitors can choose from the All Parks Best Value ticket (Adults: S$41) and the 3 Parks ticket (Adults: S$33). Sunway Lagoon, 3, Jln PJS 11/11, Bandar Sunway, tel: +60   (0)3 5639 0000,


SUNWAY LAGOON, MALAYSIA Five theme parks and South- East Asia’s largest man-made beach.

SENTOSA ISLAND, SINGAPORE Accessible by cable car, this resort destination is home to a 2km-long beach.

SIAM PARK CITY, BANGKOK A 13,600m2 wave pool and inviting stretch of sand right in the city centre.

GALAXY WORLD, MACAU A white-sand beach and a 4,000m2 wave pool.