As Islam tends to place a high value on modesty, this contest focuses less on beauty’s physical aspects and more on its ideational ones: in this pageant, strength of character, intelligence, and piety matter most.
Unlike American beauty pageants, orphans–not celebrities or beauty experts–help choose the winners of Miss Muslimah. Like American beauty pageants, travel and minimal sleep largely define the contestants’ days in the pageant. As with their Western counterparts, the young participants in the Miss Muslimah competition hail from a variety of backgrounds and ages. In the past, winners have received prizes such as a pilgrimage to the Hajj, educational trips around the world, and scholarships.
World Muslimah Foundation organizes the competition, which was first held in 2011 in Jakarta, Indonesia. At that point in time, it was only open to Indonesians, but the pageant has since internationalized. Before entering the World Muslim competition, the 20 finalists must take part in a workshop in Jakarta, which includes Quran memorization, and classes on public speaking, humanitarianism, and women’s development.
As with any platform which places competitive value on women’s beauty, there is some debate on just what kind of Muslim woman this pageant is promoting–and if that woman is “empowered” at all. On the one hand, the headscarf–which isn’t abandoned by pageant participants–is seen by some as an object which diminishes the woman’s autonomy; on the other, that World Muslimah Foundation would host a competition in the first place is seen by some as antagonistic to the virtues of Muslim faith.
Learn more about the competition and participants below and make up your mind for yourself:
Elis Sholihah leads the bus in a sing-along.
Enjoying a last meal before the main event.
Participants form friendships that will likely last a lifetime.
The last Quran reading class before the pageant.
More prayer and more snacks.
Miss Indonesia, posing in front of Borobudur.
Dina Torkia from the United Kingdom makes her way off the bus.
Miss Iran enjoys a photo op.
Leaving the mosque.
Nazreen Ali of India prepares.
Resting while checking their phones.
A time out for a quick prayer.
Finding shoes prior to rehearsal.
Elderly home visits play a large part in the sense of community and compassion that Miss Muslimah should represent.
Nur Khairunnisa of Malaysia catches her breath on an elevator ride to the ball.
The lack of sleep catches up with Miss Malaysia.
Miss Nigeria, Bilqis Adebayo, has advanced to the second round. She hydrates while getting re-styled.
Bilqis Adebayo takes her turn in the makeup chair.
Becoming acquainted with the stage during rehearsals.
Each contestant has a designated “Logistics Officer”. These LOs sneak in a nap between engagements.
Meet Miss Muslimah 2014, Fatma Ben Guefrache of Tunisia.
Miss Tunisia packs up the morning after her big win.
Some pageant challenges include financing and investing.
Anxiously awaiting the pageant backstage.
Just one of the spoils of victory. Other prizes include trips and scholarship.
Transportation to the festivities.
The costumes arrive.
Desserts are abundant at fancy events.
At a mosque before prayer time, which occurs several times per day.