There is a pageant in Yogyakarta, Indonesia called Miss Muslimah. The pageant was developed by Eka Shanty, a former Indonesian television presenter who lost her job because she wouldn’t take off her hijab on air. The World Muslimah Award is known informally as Miss Muslimah because the point of the pageant is to be the Muslim world’s response to Miss World. The pageant feels pretty modest. For instance, contestants take part in recitals from the Quran, Muslim shopping challenges and debates about things like nail polish being forbidden or not.
The contest is in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. It has been going on since 2011. It attracts women from Nigeria, Iran, Tunisia, the UK, Trinidad and all across Southeast Asia as well. Miss Palestine, Egypt, Germany and USA were meant to come too, but due to family issues and visa problems the contest only has 18 contestants. The women go through a 12 day quarantine period where they wake up at 5am, walk around in high heels and visit slums, old people’s homes and also corporate sponsors all the while being judged for their piety. Some days the women are woken up at 2am for an extra prayer.
The lucky winner gets $10,000 worth of gold dinars, a culinary tour in South Korea, a gold watch and a trip to Mecca. At first, the contest meant to showcase Islamic fashion, but has adopted humanitarian aims along the way. For instance, the contestants will have to verbalize their vision for improving other Muslim women’s lives around the world. The girls being judged are actually really good people. Miss India provides free lessons for women across a range of subjects back at home. Miss Bangladesh is an internist who works towards women’s reproductive rights.
There is a dark side, however. What was once a competition seems to be taking in more commercialized forms of superficiality. Miss Nigeria and Miss Bangladesh were given skin lightening creams. The Talents Spectrum Assessment is an Indonesian finger scan test that is meant to identify specific character traits from a finger print. It accounts for 20 percent of a contestant’s final score. There are a score of reasons why this contest is not as good as it could be, but what do you think? Read more at Al Jazeera.