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The moment a Muslim woman is threatened for wearing a burkini on a beach

Muslim women in Australia will find themselves at the centre of a swim suit battle this summer.

It is called the Burkini, a top-to-toe swimming outfit designed for Muslim women in Australia by an Australian designer.

But it has become the flash point for an ideological battle between Muslims and non-Muslims in France where women are being fined and removed from beaches for wearing them.

The bloody Bastille Day attack in Nice was the catalyst for local councils to ban the burkini and anything that resembled it from the beaches of the French Riviera.

Zeynab Alshelh, 23, was born in Western Sydney and began wearing the hijab when she was 10

"I thought it was just such a beautiful thing," Zeynab said.

"Everyone around me, my mum, my aunts, my mums’ friends, they all wore it so beautifully and I just wanted to be part of that."

What many people don’t realise is that the Burkini originated right here in Australia at the hands of designer Aheda Zanetti.

"It is as Australian as you can get, it was born in Australia and it started off in Australia and it's the name, the way that the name was put together was very Australian so it is pretty Australian," Zeynab said.

"I was quite shocked. I think they misunderstood. Why would they ban something when I designed a swimsuit that was part of integration within Australian lifestyle?"

Aheda solved the problem Zaynab had run into when devotion to her religion collided with her passion for sports.

Like thousands of other Muslim women, she embraced it.

The stark contrast between the burkini, designed in Australia, and bikini which originated in France
The stark contrast between the burkini, designed in Australia, and bikini which originated in France

But with the anti-Muslim sentiment at an all-time high the burkini, the burqa and other overt signs of the Islamic faith are targets.

Nowhere is that feeling stronger than in France, which has lost more lives to Muslim extremists than any European nation.

With the rise of Islamic extremism, the French government along with other governments around Europe have sought to appease the public by enforcing laws on Muslim dress.

More than a decade ago schools banned the hijab and, in 2010, the French parliament outlawed the full body burqa, which conceals a wearer’s face.

Zeynab said the popular argument that women who choose to cover their hair or face are oppressed is completely false.

"I just find it ridiculous."

"It is a symbol of my faith, it is a symbol of my religion, it is a symbol of Islam and to go out there and wear the hijab, it helps people focus on what’s inside rather than what’s on the outside."

She decided she could no longer stand by and watch what was happening in France.

Zeynab found the Australian design essential for her love of sport
Zeynab found the Australian design essential for her love of sport

So she and her parents set off for the French Riviera to show solidarity with local Muslims, armed with a special burkini in the French national colours to give away to local Muslims.

"I want to speak to the girls that have gone through all of this stuff," she told Sunday Night.

"I want to know what is going on and why, and hopefully if there is anything that we can do to help these girls just live a normal life"

No sooner had they set foot on French sand than they got a lesson in just how hostile the locals are towards Muslims.

Sunday Night footage from the beach shows a man threatening to call the police if the women didn’t leave the beach.

"We were threatened by locals to leave the beach and if we didn't they were going to call the police. They weren't happy with us being there, even though it was on the beach that the burkini ban was overturned but the locals were not happy."

The founder of the Love Australia or Leave party founder Kim Vuga
The founder of the Love Australia or Leave party founder Kim Vuga

"It starts off at the beach and God knows where it ends," Zeynab said.

"It's hard to be proud of a country who rejects you and whose laws allow the general public to discriminate against you. It's really difficult.

"At least in Australia, even though there is some racism here and there, but the government does not say that it is okay to be racist towards anyone."

"It's absurd, it's dangerous, it is a fight against diversity."

Lionel Tivoli runs the French Riviera’s branch of the National Front – one of many right-wing political groups whose popularity is on the rise across Europe.

"The burkini is a symbol, a symbol of radicalisation.

"It is enslavement and if the person will create the burkini for liberation of women she makes mistake."

Back in Australia, there are plenty of people who would like to see similar bans to France.

Politicians like Kim Vuga and Pauline Hanson are whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment in impassioned speeches.

"I believe that the burkini is an extension of the burka, and the burka should be banned in Australia too," Love Australia or Leave party founder Kim Vuga said.

"And if that means we’re just stepping on the toes of the Muslims at the moment and we’re picking on them, so be it… what's paramount is our safety."

In September three women dressed in Burkas were arrested in Paris, suspected of plotting to blow up Notre Dame Cathedral – fuelling fears in Australia of a similar attack.

"Maybe we need in Australia a national take off your burqa day. Let's get them used to that feeling as that is real liberation," Kim Vuga said.

"We are unsafe. We are waiting for an imminent terrorist attack. I believe it is only a matter of time."