When the burkini appeared in the news a decade ago, it carried with it a dense web of historical associations, political connotations and moral valences. The histories of the bikini and the burka – including the ways that each garment has been framed as the other’s antithesis – played an important role in shaping how the burkini was represented and interpreted in the new century. In Europe and the Anglophone World, modest swimsuits and the figure of the burkini-clad women were appropriated as catalysts for contemporary debates about the possibilities and limits of cultural pluralism in an era of economic globalisation, mass migrations, war and terrorism and ethnic nationalist movements.
Entering Mecca disciples leave all their materialistic belongings behind and enter in identical white robes, an act that symbolically means they are viewed as equals in the eyes of God. In this sacred uniform, a man who has saved all his life to visit Mecca could be praying next to a billionaire.
A colour that is just as avidly used by the religiously devout, black communicates an altogether distinct message. Whereas white is about purity, spirituality and hierarchies of piety, black stands for modesty and simplicity.