The clothes or fashion trends we embody on a regular or semi-regular basis give an impression to other people of who we may be as individuals. On Sunday April 30 at Ocean County College, the group 'Reaching Across Faith Traditions' and Ocean County Diversity Initiative hosts a panel discussion on how religion affects women's dress.

Mona Khan, Co-Founder of the R.A.F.T. Foundation, says one fashion trend gaining attention is Muslim women wearing burqini's...a bathing suit that covers the entire body.

She says the negative attention it was receiving in South France last year inspired her to begin a dialogue to explain that it's not meant to be offensive.

"'My thing it possible that those women are wearing them because they want to? because they want to cover themselves up while enjoying the beach or things like that?" said Khan.

Lisa Gertner, Co-Founder along with Khan, explains that she wanted to have an educational forum on the topic so everyone could better understand other cultures.

She says women in many religions wear certain clothes because they want to, not because they have to.

"It makes them feel very comfortable, it's not at all a sign of oppression," said Gertner. "I think that might surprise some western feminists who think they are trying to help these 'poor woman' who have to be forced into this, and that's not necessarily the case."

She adds that women's dress in various religious cultures has become more prevalent in a changing world.

"It's just natural for us, with all the information that we're receiving, to just make sense of it all," said Gertner.

She believes this is where generalizations or stereotypes occur in society from people who don't understand or don't appreciate a certain type of apparel and then make judgments.

The panel discussion which runs from 3:30-5:50 pm at Ocean County College in Toms River, is being designed to help void the stigma of stereotypes and enhance educational outreach.

Board member with R.A.F.T., Samantha Gertner, adds that she has an idea for a follow up event in the future examining the religious fashion trends even further.

"The way that we brought these religious symbols that can be seen as dividing us into something that's uniting us that we all enjoy, is a lovely expression," said Gertner.

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