Islam’s Answer To Miss World, ‘Miss Muslimah World’ Shows A Unique Side Of Muslim Beauty

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When you think of beauty pageants you think of girls with big blonde bouffant hair waving at the crowd in a faux smile probably wearing some extravagant ball gown or bikini answering questions about world peace. Okay, okay, that’s more like a description of ‘Miss Congeniality’ starring Sandra Bullock, but hey it’s not far off the mark.

There is a lot of angst among women’s groups when it comes to discussions about whether beauty pageants are outdated or whether they do serve an empowering purpose as some of them claim.

One organization which is trying to change the status quo about beauty pageants is Miss Muslimah World. It is described as the “opposite” of a beauty pageant.

The event was started in 2011 by former broadcast journalist Eka Shanty who was fired from her job after refusing to remove her head covering on air. She was then inspired to create the pageant to show a different side of Muslim beauty that is often not shown in mainstream media.

In 2014 the event was held in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, and in 2015 it will be held in Bangladesh. The 2014 event saw a lot of media attention surrounding it both good and bad. Because it was held in Indonesia, many Muslim groups didn’t like what it represented, and there was also criticism about the sponsorship from a skin-lightening cream. But Eka and the organization are adamant that a new portrayal of Muslim beauty is needed.

Eka-Shanty

“We’re trying to find an excellent personality that can be a role model, an ideal figure to stand on behalf of millions of Muslim women in the world. Of course this is very challenging and stressful, but I think it’s worth it for them,” she told the Huffington Post.

Because of the criticism from more conservative groups that this pageants exploits the Muslim faith, Eka is very pointed about the message they are seeking to share.

“[In 2013] we deliberately held our event just before the Miss World final to show that there are alternative role models for Muslim women. Muslim women are increasingly working in the entertainment industry in a sexually explicit way, and they become role models, which is a concern,” she told NDTV about how they are serving a more empowering purpose than just focusing external beauty.

Photographer Monique Jacques, who is based out of Turkey and focuses her work on issues concerning the Middle East, India and Afghanistan took some stunning images of the girls during the 2014 event which have been shown on many sites such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and .Mic.

During the pageant, Monique said she learned a lot from spending time around the contestants.

“I believe that this idea that the West has that the lives Muslim women lead are so different from ours is outdated and naive. The girls had as much in common with any other young girl in America. They talked about makeup, television shows and friends just like [many] young women do,” she told Huffpost.

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Because of the focus of her work it was a great opportunity to show a new perspective on what is often thought of as a highly oppressed group of women.

“In my work I’m always looking for ways to communicate the experience of young Muslim women to Western audiences. Much of the competition is similar to a pageant in America or anywhere in the West, just with headscarves,” she said.

Eka Shanty also is proud of the fact that the event is able to educate non-Muslims on a side of these women that isn’t always talked about. It can also serve as a way to help break down prejudice in more serious situations, she believes.

“I think it brings light to strong educated women who have goals and issues, and the hijab won’t deter them. Many have faced prejudice for their religious beliefs; one was even denied admittance to a university in France. Together, they stand up for the rights of Muslim women around the world,” she said in an interview with Feature Shoot.

Like many other beauty pageants, the schedule is grueling. During the event they visit impoverished slums and elderly homes, speak with corporate sponsors, all while praying five times a day and wearing heels. Challenges include reciting Quran passages, volunteering in nursing homes, debating Muslim values and touring impoverished communities. One of the most awesome aspects of the pageant is that the final round is decided on by a jury of 100 orphans aged 9-12, Eka told Amuslima.com.

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Overall the pageant aims to promote positive role models within the Muslim community worldwide and share with the rest of the world a new side to the faith in order to gain more understanding and empathy. This is clearly seen through the experience of photographer Monique who says she fell in love with the girls competing.

“These issues, and the girls fighting for them, challenge the way we think about Muslim women — they’re not meek followers. wonderful collection of strong women with clear ideas about who they were and what they wanted to achieve. They are strong, educated women working for a cause and using every platform available to speak about it. I admire them and the determination they have,” she said.

Take a look at a news piece reporting on a previous Miss Muslimah event to get an idea of what it aims to promote and how it wants to change perspectives about modern Muslim women:


 

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