The beach is crowded with men these days. Powerful, muscled Dagestani men, who practice martial arts and wrestle on the littered sand of the Caspian Sea shore in the capital city of Makhachkala. Some sit around, enjoying boiled ears of corn with butter and salt; others play soccer or ride on their buddies' shoulders in the waves, competing to see who can last longest without collapsing into the water. Rare groups of shy women in long flannel dresses enter the sea holding children by the hand; their long skirts and colorful hijabs immediately soak up salty water, like sponges. Bikinis? There are almost none. The social change here has been fast and radical: just two summers ago, only a smattering of women swam in their long dresses and scarves on Russia's Caspian Sea beaches. This year, public opinion in the region—the place with the highest level of terrorist attacks in Russia—decided to put an end to the "sinful" display of women's bodies. The appearance of a rare tourist in a modern swimsuit elicits frowns, and a grumpy comment in the local language. One word is always clear: haram or "forbidden."
To make life easier for both women who want to swim yet have no bathing robes (nicknamed burkinis), and for men keen on playing on the beach without violating the dictates of Islam, the state opened the first Sharia-compliant beach in Russia this month. Named "Mountain Woman Beach," it's a gated community, open to women, girls and boys younger than 6 years of age. Visitors can rest in comfortable wooden shelters to escape the heat or swim in the ocean without the burden of burkinis. The beach is proof enough, if any were needed, of the rise of Islam in Russia. It's also a security measure to protect women from a recent, gruesome spate of bombings at the Caspian shore.