Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Islam and Beauty Pageants: An Issue of Religion, Culture, Personal Freedom, Collective Responsibility; a Non-Issue; Other?

Stefania Fernández, Miss Venezuela, crowned Miss Universe, 2009

Beauty pageants are controversial among feminists, the general population, and for corporate sponsors. Nonetheless, they continue to draw positive attention, and form part of the aspirations for a diverse group of women. I have known 2 contestants, both very bright teenagers headed to university and professional careers (one did an LLB then worked as an executive; the other probably went to med school like her Dad had). A family friend, who was more trying to turn her complexes about her height making her unmarriageable into a positive, also competed in her early 20's before heading off to her career as a Mrs.

Ximena Navarette, Miss Mexico, crowned Miss Universe 2010 
by Stefania Fernández, Miss Universe 2009 (Foto: EFE)

For Muslim women in the West, participation in a beauty pageant may be more of a cross-cultural, interfaith (mis-)adventure than for others. In Muslim majority countries, or countries with a substantial Muslim minority the whole issue of a national pageant that conforms to international pageant expectations and rules may be fraught. The same is true for other conservative cultures and the more conservative among their religious groups.

Miss Universe contestants model swimwear after being selected in the final fifteen during the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Mexico's Jimena Navarrete was crowned Miss Universe in an upset victory that stunned a pageant world which had predicted a winner to emerge from Ireland, Venezuela or the United States.
Photograph by: MARK RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images


While diverse pageants interpret beauty and how to prove it in different ways, including culturally and religiously acceptable cover, there is no doubt that the main international competitions and the local and national pageants which lead up to them require a swimsuit competition. While some of the swimsuits are more modest than the standard bikini, even a one-piece involves cleavage, bare legs to the top of the thigh, and a molded fit to the bodice. Although, the aspiring contestant's suggestion of a sarong would perhaps cover a little more, there would still be outlines and bare limbs showing.

The following article from the BBC raises some of the issues, including those about acculturation, personal choices, and cultural and religious norms.

Shanna Bukhari wants to be the first Muslim to represent the UK in Miss Universe

Muslim model defends Miss Universe contest bid
By Anthony Baxter
Newsbeat reporter
Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 March 2011 01:15 UK

A model bidding to become the first Muslim to represent the UK in the world final of Miss Universe has been defending her decision to enter.

Shanna Bukhari, who is 24 and lives in Manchester, said she's been sent racist and abusive messages since making it to the beauty contest's UK final.

She believes Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have a western lifestyle.

But Muslim groups have accused her of disrespecting Islam.

Shanna was born in Blackburn and she became a full-time model after finishing her degree.

'Swimwear round'

She said it's her dream to be crowned Miss Universe but has been told she's going against her religion.

"[I get] comments like, 'You're not a Muslim because you're doing this' and it's like, this competition does not make me a bad Muslim at all.

"So it does hurt me to think that people are thinking like that," she said.

One of the main reasons some Muslims are angry is that Shanna would have to appear in swimwear in one round of the competition.

Mohammed Shafiq is from the Ramadhan Foundation, a group that works with young Muslims in the UK. He's against Shanna taking part.

"Islam is very clear that a woman should dress modestly and we do not believe that parading yourself in a bikini is appropriate," he said.

We are clear that we find what she's doing distasteful - lots of women find these competitions degrading.
"We are clear that we find what she's doing distasteful. Lots of women find these [competitions] degrading."
Mohammed Shafiq
Ramadhan Foundation
He said he accepts the right for Muslim women to wear whatever they choose, but that those living in a western country should still be respectful of Islam.

"We celebrate individual freedom but to suggest that someone who is opposed to something she's doing needs to move off to another country is quite offensive," he continued.

Shanna said most people do support her, including her family in Pakistan and that she won't be wearing a bikini but a one-piece and a sarong.

'Really jealous'

But her older sister Sameera admitted some of the abusive comments have worried her.

"Is it going to be bricks and stones next when she's walking out on the street? People thinking, 'Oh look at her, she's a Pakistani and she's entering this competition'."

If Shanna wins the UK final on 1 May, she'll be the first ever Muslim to represent Britain in the grand final in Brazil later this year.

"People are attacking me, using religion as a tool, but is it really religion?

"Or are you really jealous of a girl coming forward and not allowing anyone to dictate to her?

"There are people out there who want to control women," Shanna said.

Meanwhile, other young Muslims have told Newsbeat that being allowed to live a Western lifestyle in the UK is a big issue.

Rayan Jawad, 27, said: "This is a discussion that goes on all the time.

"She's doing pretty much what any girl would love to do who's been brought up here."

Rumena Begum, 18 said: "It goes against our morals and our religion.

"But it's her life - she can do whatever she wants really."

The Miss Universe beauty contest was first held in 1952.

The title is held by the Mexican contestant Ximena Navarrete.

**********

Muslim girl's Miss Universe bid: Your views
By Anthony Baxter
Newsbeat reporter
Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 March 2011 01:15 UK

Newsbeat has spoken to young Muslims about a British model's bid to be the first Muslim to represent the UK in Miss Universe.

Shanna Bukhari, who is 24 and lives in Manchester, says she's been sent racist and abusive messages since making it to the beauty contest's UK final.

She believes Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have a western lifestyle.

But Muslim groups say she is disrespecting Islam.


Ashrafi Zaman, 18

It's what girls want to do, model.

I wouldn't want other people looking at what I'm wearing and my skin.


Rumena Begum, 18

Sometimes I want to become Miss Universe too.

But it goes against our morals and our religion.

Our family would tell us off, and it's just me myself, I wouldn't do it.

It's her life, she can do whatever she wants, really.

I don't think she should listen to other people.


Abdel Marik, 21

Myself being a Muslim I don't really see the problem with it.

As long as she doesn't go against anything that's fundamental to our religious beliefs, it's okay.

But I personally think it's important for women to dress modestly and it's mainly because of how men act.

It's down to personal choice, and that's what Islam is all about and no one should really enforce anything against that.

Rayan Jawad, 27

This is a discussion that goes on all the time.

It goes on in every mosque, in every household and every community centre.

It all boils down to the same thing - in the West, it's absolutely fine to do that.

It's not a symbol of what older people from the east would see as inappropriate.

She's doing pretty much what any girl would love to do who's been brought up here.

**********

Have you/ someone you know participated in a beauty pageant?
What was your/ that person's experience like?
Would you want a woman family member to participate in a beauty pageant?
Why? Why not?
Is a one piece bathing suit with a sarong sufficient cover for a Muslim pageant participant?
Can there be such a thing as an Islamic beauty pageant?
Whose beauty pageant life is it anyway?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Miss Universe contestants model swimwear as they dance during the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Mexico's Jimena Navarrete was crowned Miss Universe in an upset victory that stunned a pageant world which had predicted a winner to emerge from Ireland, Venezuela or the United States.
Photograph by: MARK RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images


*Unfortunately, no suitable one piece bathing suit with sarong photos were available, so the bikinis of the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant were used to illustrate this post instead ;)

20 comments:

♥♥♥ said...

Hi & sorry

It's forbidden. & however one promotes beauty competition, valuing a human being by the physical is not right - be it for men or women.

A saudi guy deleted me for my comments on beauty queen, I don't think I said anything bad - just I was expecting arab muslims to be more like their forefathers who spreads Islam, rather than spread beauty pageants. I'm born a muslim thanks to those ancient arabs, alhamdulillah. So I hope my descendants won't be in a bikini strutting their stuffs thanks to beauty pageant promoters.

It's simply forbidden. That's it.

Susanne said...

I loved your note at the end! :D

Interesting post - thanks for sharing!

Majed said...

I think girls who want to participate in such contests, are very modern and open-minded and clever,even though, they dont know why people should be looking at their bodies and the beauty of their skin,then I wonder,what for they expose most of it, isn't that silly? how can they forget that men like us work very hard and spend the money they earn to marry and get commetted for life to some girl not inattentive of that there will be children and responsibilities that we will have to fulfill, we do all that as a start just to enjoy their skin,legs,thighs,etc, and they wonder why poeple are angry.

I enjoy seeing all those things (grils) for free,I am open-minded man too, and allow my wife sister mother to show her face,drive and everything i do, but should my sister or wife do such thing as modeling and this beauty thing, well,, I guess no I am sure, I will take her somewhere for picnic and come back alone.

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Majed said...

I do not remember claiming perfection,nor do I demand it of anyone.

I think those girls who participate in such contest and show of their bodies in that shameful ways, do it for a return be it for money or fame and they eventually end up as high class escorts and prostitutes, and that of course affects their near and far circle of people.

I am not trying to make fatwa here, but i personally think, this type of wrong doing is just a sin,like other sins and that its perpetrator is not considered as infidel or unbeliever or deserves capital punishment.

But I think families will be better off without such members and should dispose of them in suitable ways.

Oh, Sheikh hamdan, I just googled for him, and at the first instance i thought he was a girl in disguise, he is really very beautiful boy indeed.

Countrygirl said...

It's her choice, nobody force her to partecipate to beauty pageants.

I think it's backward to think that whoever take part in those pageants will end up as an escorts..

Majed you said that "I am open-minded man too" but in the next sentence you say "ALLOW my wife sister mother to show her face,drive " they are ADULTS and not kids that need your permission to do things...then you end with "should my sister or wife do such thing as modeling and this beauty thing, well,, I guess no I am sure, I will take her somewhere for picnic and come back alone" sorry but IMHO this is not a open mindy, i think it's pretty backward mind, i don't want to think on what you would do if one of your female relative (or male a well) would chose to change religion...get out your cave and enter the modern world

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Countrygirl said...

@ ♥♥♥ I used backward for the people that thinks that the girl/women in the Beauty pageant will end up working as a prostitute, I'm not a big fan of the Beauty pageant, i think that you should value only from what he/she is and not on his/her appereance...There are beautifull dumb people but also ugly dumb people...

I don't see anything wrong in looking an handsome man...it's human nature and you can't deny it....and when I meet and handsome man i think wow he's hot BUT if when i start to talk to him and i find out that he's a jerk/stupid/whatever i will value for what he is and not from how he looks

Majed said...

allow, permit, let, give permission, authorize or whatever, I didnt know what to use so I chose it by lot,no matter what i use, it would have trapped me.

But to tell the truth, our females are islamically and legally males responsibility, so to use (allow) is just fine.

I know in the western countries a man can even go to watch with his friend his sister strip dancing, and hear his friend saying ohhh man your sister is gorgeous, and he will tell him thank you buddy. Sorry i can not do that I will prefer to finish my beloved sister instead.

As for any one of my family members converting,I will leave him alone, guess why, because he or she must be insane, and as a muslim i believe insanity exempts a person of all his responsibilities.

Countrygirl said...

@Majed I live, thankfully, in the western world but what you said "I know in the western countries a man can even go to watch with his friend his sister strip dancing, and hear his friend saying ohhh man your sister is gorgeous and he will tell him thank you buddy." happens only in really bad commedt movie and of course in the mind of backward man like yourself....you really give a bad man to muslims by saying that it's ok to kill your sister if she behave in a wat that for you is wrong...i refrain to say anyting about the bulls@@t you say about being insane by simply converting to another religion...go back to your cave!


Thanks God Marie Curie, Hillary Clinton, Condoleza Rice, Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Mother Theresa, Maria Montessori, Florence Nittingal and others many great women in the past (and presnet) didn't have a father/brother/husband like yourself because the world would ha lost their talent/work.

Chiara said...

♥♥♥ - Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comments on this post. I hope you will comment on other posts of interest to you.
It seems to me that the challenge is that while certain behaviours may be forbidden, Muslims interpret how those behaviours are exactly defined, and what they find compatible with their faith differently.
As well as that broader religious issue, there are 3 cultural issues in this post that stand out: South Asian culture; British culture; and the culture of Britons of South Asian origin.
Thanks again for your comments.

Chiara said...

Majed-thanks for your comments and candour on this topic; also, for your bravery in the line of female/ feminist fire! :D
I'm not sure I understand what you are suggesting would be the appropriate treatment of a family member who participated in a beauty pageant. Do you mean the person should be shunned from the family, or something even more dire?
Thanks again for participating in this discussion!

Chiara said...

Countrygirl--thanks for sharing your views on this topic. We are (for once!) in agreement about the woman's choice--even if that is against her culture of origin and religious precepts. I wouldn't call those who disagree necessarily backward, but I am concerned about violence against those who choose to follow the culture of the host country, and the one in which they were raised.
I often have this discussion with immigrants or aspiring immigrants, who have a fantasy that their children can be raised unaffected by the host culture. Most are more hybrid in their beliefs than sometimes they or their parents recognize. In fact the parents evolve over time more than they realize too.
Thanks again for participating on this post.

Chiara said...

Susanne-:D Yes, I just know there are readers disappointed by the bathing suit selections ;).
Thanks for your comment!

Countrygirl said...

@Chiara sometime we agree on something :-P I didn't call backward Majed because he thinks different from me but for his attitude for him women are under the tutelage of men, if one of his female relative act in a way she must be punished, he say that is ok to resort to violence if a sister/daughter decide to go a beauty pageant...also here in the western world the women had to subimt to men's will but thanksfully we evolve, I reckon that for him women are inferior since men's responsibility. I call backward whoever thinks in this way....

Majed said...

Hey country girl,sorry,I really did not mean to hurt you,but you should really know how most of us think, westerners would like to promote things among us without evaluating the risks involved,may be it is a dire picture that I gave you, but 100% true, yes there are among us muslims, some indifferents who will follow this trends, but the majority will follow my pattern,and people in the west should understand that world is not and can not be a uniform entity, diversities and varieties and not uniformity that keeps life running,love it or hate it we have to live it.

By the way I love and adore my siters they are my beauty queens they do not have to go to some livestock and cattle market so that everyone come and measures,push, press and check them and tell me I am right or wrong.

Even Marie Curie, Hillary Clinton,( Condoleza Rice), Angela Merkel, Golda Meir all have naturally submitted to men, all are named after their husband as a deed of ownership(so superior) at least in our society our females keep their names even after marriage as seperate individuals women are not car or house to change her ownership after marriage why are not men called after their women if you are right.

As Chiara said it, i could have kept my feeling for myself and pleased everyone by following the current but then, that would not be me, i prefer to be hated me than an admired hypocrite.

Countrygirl said...

@Majed you really don't understand one basic fact....the women here in the western worl DOESN'T need their father/brother/husband permission to do thing.....you can keep your maiden name if you want, the women i mentioned achieved fame for their works, some of them worked with husband Curie, Maria Montessori was one of the first female doctors in Italy and never married, some of them achieved fame before thier husband Hilary Roham Clinton was a well known lawyer well before her husband became president, Golda Meir became prime minister not for whome she was married to....if you ask to any married women here in the western world if they think they are submitte to their husband you will be laughted at. Husband and wife can decide to merge thier properties or most often they decide to have separate finance. Women DOESN'T need their husband permission to drive, they can wear whatever they please and they DOESN't NEED their husband permission to work or study...one more thing nowadays a woman can keep her maiden name, when my mother married my husband (in the late sixties) she changed surname BUT professional she is known with her maiden name

Where you live you can do whatever you want but the problem remain if a muslim emigrates to a western world he HAVE to understan that he can't behave like he were back in his homeworld....he can't kill his OWN daughter only because she decide to take part to a beauty contest or she is too westernized (in his eyes), nobody force women to enter beauty contest it's their free will....if men can't thier instict at bay it's their fault not women fault

Majed said...

@Courygirl,you are wrong there, if we are willing to pay the price, we can do whatever we want wherever we want,we can do it in Kabul and we can do it in Washington.

for the remaining part of the argument, I would want to avoid the dilemma of wether the hen or the egg came first.

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