A Nigerian woman was crowned Miss World Muslimah during the finale of an Islamic beauty pageant in Indonesia, a riposte to the Miss World contest that has sparked hard-line anger.
Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, a 21-year-old contestant from Lagos, came first in a competition that saw participants judged not only on their appearance, but also their piety and Islamic knowledge and skills.
Indonesia’s Noor Aspasia was named runner-up.
Some 20 contestants from six countries began the show by elegantly descending a flight of stairs into public view – all covered head-to-toe in shimmering and sparkling materials.
All contestants must wear headscarves in their daily lives.
“We’re just trying to show the world that Islam is beautiful,” Ajibola told AFP backstage in the capital, Jakarta, before the final got under way.
“We are free and the hijab is our pride,” she said, adding that the pageant was “nothing like Miss World, where women expose their bodies.”
Organizers say they want to show Muslim women there is an alternative to the idea of beauty put forward by the Miss World pageant – currently underway in Bali – and also want to show that opposition to the event can be expressed nonviolently.
Eka Shanti, who founded the pageant three years ago after losing her job as a TV news anchor for refusing to remove her headscarf, bills the contest as “Islam’s answer to Miss World.”
“This year we deliberately held our event just before the Miss World final to show there are alternative role models for Muslim women,” she told AFP.
“But it’s about more than Miss World. Muslim women are increasingly working in the entertainment industry in a sexually explicit way. They become role models, which is a concern.”
Hosted by Dewi Sandra, an Indonesian actress and pop star who recently hung up her racy dresses for a hijab, the pageant began with a choral performance of a song about modesty, one of the traits judges will be looking for in the winner. Contestants also had to recite the Koran.
While the participants looked glamorous, the venue – the exhibition hall of a shopping mall – was a far cry from the likely lavish setting of the British-run Miss World final in Bali.
And the pageant, which features Indonesian Islamic designer wear and popular bands, is a starkly different way of protesting Miss World than the approach taken by Islamic radicals.
Thousands have taken to the streets in Indonesia in recent weeks to protest Miss World, denouncing the contest as “pornography” and burning effigies of the organizers.
Despite a pledge by organizers to drop the famous bikini round, radical anger was not appeased and the protest movement snowballed.
The government eventually bowed to pressure and ordered the whole three-week pageant be moved to the Hindu-majority island of Bali, where it opened on Sept. 8. Later rounds and the Sept. 28 final were to be held in and around Jakarta, where there is considerable hard-line influence.
More than 500 contestants competed in online rounds to get to the World Muslimah final in Indonesia, one of which involved the contenders comparing stories of how they came to wear the headscarf.
Contestants retold these stories and answered questions from judges at the final. Ajibola wins 25 million rupiah ($2,179) and trips to Mecca and India.
“What I will be looking for is strength of personality – someone with a vision for the future, who gives back to their community and shows that beauty is not just about bodies,” Jameyah Sheriff, an education expert from Malaysia on the judging panel, said ahead of the final.
The contest was first held in 2011 under a different name and was only open to Indonesians, Shanti said, but after the media began comparing it to Miss World, it was rebranded as a Muslim alternative to the world-famous pageant.
Because of its popularity, organizers accepted foreign contestants this year, with Iran, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Brunei represented alongside Nigeria and Indonesia.