Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Move over Miss World: A Beauty Contest for Muslim Women

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Move over Miss World: A Beauty Contest for Muslim Women

Article excerpt

There was no shortage of sparkles, high heels, and sashes, and when Miss Nigeria was crowned the pageant winner she dropped to her knees and cried tears of happiness. But this was no ordinary pageant. This contest was for Muslims only, and the contestants wore headscarves and floor-sweeping gowns that covered their chests and shoulders.

On Wednesday the top 10 finalists for World Muslimah shared their thoughts on the importance of motherhood, the dangers of the Internet, and the value of Islamic finance. They were vying for the "crown of modesty," a golden statue of a woman giving thanks to God and an all expenses paid trip to Mecca.

It's the third year the event has taken place, but this time it's happening at the same time and in the same country as the Miss World competition - a pageant that has raised angry protests from Islamic hardliners, who have called it pornographic and demanded it be stopped.

Organizers say World Muslimah is aimed at showcasing women who are smart, stylish, and display good Islamic morals. It's billed as an antidote to the Miss World pageant, which is taking place this week just 730 miles away on the resort island of Bali.

"This is an international event to appreciate women who have talent, dedication, and a reputation in their communities for being young, but also giving back to others," says Eka Shanti, the pageant's founder.

She says the pageant is based around sholehah, an Islamic term meaning someone who is pious, has good morals, and observes Islamic rules and codes. She calls it a "formula," for understanding the ideal woman, "regardless of your religion."

It is not intended as a challenge or in opposition to Miss World, says Ms. Shanti, but as a way of expelling negative stereotypes about Muslim women.

"People think we are against Miss World," she explained. "What we're against is nudity. For the sake of education, I want to give another example."

Protests against the Miss World competition began here back in June. In response, the London-based organization agreed to swap bikinis for one-piece swimsuits and more modest Balinese sarongs out of respect, they said, to local customs and values. …

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