Finnish gym bans locker room prayers

Finland’s Minority Ombudsman is to investigate whether a gym is guilty of discrimination after it banned Muslims from praying in its locker room. Eva Biudet says she will speak to management at the Lady Fitness Centre in Helsinki’s Espoon Keskus district to find out why they put up a notice asking for customers to keep the gym worship-free.

Women arriving at the centre this week found a sign which read: “the locker room is a religion and politics-free zone, where everyone can spend their free time in a neutral manner.” According to the gym’s owner, P-C Nordensved, the ban was introduced after years of complaints. He added that dozens of Muslims attend the gym every day.

“Some of them [Muslim women] have very weak language skills, and they deal with membership issues through an interpreter. The ones that have lived here longer have adapted to our customs,” said Nordensved. He added that he plans to ask shop owners in the mall where the gym is located if any of them could provide the women with a space to pray.

Piia Keskinen, who has been a member of the gym for over two years, told Helsingin Sanomat that the locker room is too noisy for prayer anyway, and pointed out that there is a mosque just 500 metres away. “I have prayed here once, and I have seen others pray”, she said. “I also understand that others might feel strange about it.”

Biaudet said that the Finnish constitution outlines that the practice of religion is a human right, adding that there is also a law on equal treatment. “It applies to the offering of private services. It bans discrimination, both direct and indirect, against people of different ethnic origin,” she said.

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