Tunisian wins Muslim beauty pageant, calls for free Palestine

Tunisian wins Muslim beauty pageant, calls for free Palestine

A Tunisian woman called for a free Palestine as she won a pageant exclusively for Muslims in Indonesia today, seen as a riposte to Western beauty contests.

Eighteen finalists, who include a doctor and a computer scientist, paraded in glittering dresses against the backdrop of world-renowned ancient temples for the contest in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

Computer scientist Fatma Ben Guefrache was announced the winner and received a prize which includes a gold watch, a gold dinar, and mini pilgrimage to Mecca.

"May almighty Allah help me in this mission, and free Palestine, please, please, free Palestine and the Syrian people," the tearful 25-year-old woman said.

The 18 finalists were required to wear the Muslim headscarf and judged not only on their appearance, but also on how well they recite verses from the Koran and their views on Islam in the modern world.

"We want to see that they understand everything about the Islamic way of life -- from what they eat, what they wear, how they live their lives," said Jameyah Sheriff, one of the organisers.

The Indian contestant missed her initial flight as she was being questioned by officials who were suspicious of a woman travelling alone and wearing a headscarf, although she managed to get on a plane later.

The World Muslimah Award first drew global attention in 2013 when organisers presented it as a peaceful protest to Miss World, which was taking place around the same time on the resort island of Bali.

While it remains popular in some countries, British-run Miss World has faced frequent accusations that it is degrading to women, and a round in which contestants pose in bikinis has been a lightning rod for criticism.

In an effort to appease hardliners, Miss World organisers axed the bikini round for the Bali edition, but the event still sparked demonstrations from Islamic radicals.

British contestant Dina Torkia said she hoped this year's World Muslimah Award would not only provide a contrast to Western beauty pageants, but would also dispel prejudices against Islam.

"I think the most important thing is to show that we are really normal girls, we are not married to terrorists. This scarf on my head isn't scary," she told AFP.

However the 2014 pageant has faced challenges, with seven finalists dropping out and others struggling with Indonesia's complex bureaucracy to obtain visas.

Most who pulled out did so because their families did not want them to travel alone, Sheriff said.

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