Born in Uzbekistan, Raised in Afghanistan, Driven out by the Taliban Ubut I'm So Proud to Be Miss England 2005; in a Candid Interview, the First Muslim Miss England Talks of Hate Mail, Forced Marriage and Why She Won't Wear a Burka OR a Bikini

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Born in Uzbekistan, Raised in Afghanistan, Driven out by the Taliban Ubut I'm So Proud to Be Miss England 2005; in a Candid Interview, the First Muslim Miss England Talks of Hate Mail, Forced Marriage and Why She Won't Wear a Burka OR a Bikini


Byline: PETER ROBERTSON

HAMMASA KOHISTANI knows what it is like to battle through adversity.

In her short life she's had to dodge bullets, shelter from bombs and escape a war zone.

She's seen her respectable middleclass parents turned into refugees, trailed across Eastern Europe with them and then proudly watched them rebuild their lives, while all the time keeping a loving family unit together.

She has learned to draw on the setbacks in her life to help her cope with most of the obstacles thrown in her way - so she was shocked to find that her biggest success so far also led to her biggest challenge - and that it was almost insurmountable.

When Hammasa, 18, became the first Muslim to win the Miss England competition, it was less than two months after July's devastating bomb attacks on London.

The profile of British Muslims was at its most controversial for years and suddenly Hammasa found herself at the centre of a storm of disapproval. She was accused by some in her community of betraying Islam.

Religious leaders were quick to voice objections to her career choice, while Hammasa's mother was reported as being on the receiving end of some particularly vicious hate mail, including a religious curse called an 'evil eye'.

For Hammasa the hostile attention from some, alongside the scores of messages of support and congratulations, was completely unexpected and at first became too much for her to bear.

Just a day after being crowned in an emotional ceremony on September 3 at Liverpool Olympia, she found herself traumatised by the weight of criticism aimed at her by the very people she hoped to represent. She also came under the scrutiny of a public who were suddenly unsure as to whether she was a suitable representative of the Miss England brand.

She says: 'I'd had no sleep and no food. Newspapers kept calling my house and there was so much pressure that everything got too much.

I felt like everyone had turned on me. I thought, "What have I got myself into?" So I had a little breakdown and I cried for about an hour.

'I'm sure if a native English girl won Miss England, she wouldn't be asked the questions I have to face. I have to have views on politics, religion and everything, not just my favourite movie or colour or dress .

'You've never seen a headline saying Church Of England Miss England, or Catholic Miss England, so why should there be Muslim Miss England? Why do people see me for my religion; why don't they see me for me?' TODAY Hammasa has recovered from the stress of being thrust into the spotlight. The experience has made her think but hasn't changed her views, and she is happy to defend her position.

To critics who maintain that Muslim women should reveal no more than their hands, feet and face, she counters: 'When it comes to modelling and questions of decency, I have my limits and know how far to go.' Hammasa doesn't wear a burka and has no objection to wearing a one-piece swimsuit for competitions, but adds: 'I wouldn't be comfortable posing in a bikini. I'm not going to do anything vulgar or cheap and I don't drink, which is partly my religion but suits me personally, too.' She adds: 'Every country and every religion has its extremists and its moderates. I'm trying to make people understand that Islam is just the same. I take Islam seriously and I try to get as good a knowledge of it as I can but I'm my own person with my own interpretation of things and my own personal views.

'It is not right to leap to judgments about other people. And those who call themselves good Muslims and start judging me, without knowing me, they're not being good Muslims. It's not an acceptable thing to do.' Currently taking a year off from Uxbridge College, where she has been studying A-levels in government and politics, sociology, English literature and media, Hammasa has not only had to face condemnation from the predictable quarters of Muslim extremism but has also endured criticism from closer to home. …

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Born in Uzbekistan, Raised in Afghanistan, Driven out by the Taliban Ubut I'm So Proud to Be Miss England 2005; in a Candid Interview, the First Muslim Miss England Talks of Hate Mail, Forced Marriage and Why She Won't Wear a Burka OR a Bikini
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