Beauty is more than skin deep. And the World Muslimah Beauty (WMB) competition is not just about beauty.
So says Rofi Eka Shanty, a former Indonesian TV journalist and Sharia-based Public Relations professional. Last year, she founded the world's first online Muslim beauty pageant for hijab-wearing young women.
"Islam is currently experiencing a branding crisis. Its 'spokespersons' are terrorism and poverty," Rofi told Khabar Southeast Asia. She wants to showcase a different and modern face of Islam.
"I want people to see Islam as something universal and I want to counter Islamophobia," said Rofi.
After launching the Indonesian Muslimah Beauty competition in 2011, she upgraded it this year to an international event.
"This year, there will be Egyptian, Nigerian, Australian, German, and Malaysian participants" in addition to Indonesians, Rofi said.
Spreading Islam through beauty and fashion
The event has prompted grumbling among some conservative Muslims, who say Islam forbids displays of physical beauty. But Rofi sees it as a way of promoting the religion.
Many Muslim women avoid wearing the hijab for fear of being less competitive in their fields or earning less, she told Khabar. Her pageant, she hopes, will dispel such anxieties.
"The WMB ambassador should be seen as ideal, based on the Qur'an's perspectives that say Muslim women should wear Islamic attire that covers their awrat (nakedness)," Rofi said.
Competition requirements are demanding. They include Internet and technology capabilities, Qur'an-reciting proficiencies, and accomplishments in sports, academics, and culture. And wearing the hijab is a must.
The winner will be someone who will truly live the Prophet Muhammad's lifestyle, Rofi added.
She will also receive a one-year scholarship, cutting-edge gadgets, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a savings account in a Sharia bank and all-expense paid holidays in Europe, Australia, Asia and around Indonesia.
The preliminary round of the competition was held online in July. From August 17th to September 15th, Internet users can vote for their favorite participant. The grand finale will be aired live on the private Indonesian TV network Trans7 on September 16th.
The panel of judges includes prominent figures from the fashion and communications industries and a Muslim scholar.
"This year we invite 1,000 orphans to become our honorary judges. Some of them will be put on the participants' care during the [contest] to test their ability to nurture and set examples," Rofi said.
Helping Muslim women realise their potential
Kholifah Nuzulia Firdausy, or Lya, the first runner-up in 2011, told Khabar the contest was a blessing.
"It was evident that Muslim women can show their potential, be pious, smart, and continue being stylish. Furthermore, the event is a form of public religious duty to inform other Muslim women about the importance of inner and outer beauties," Lya said.
Last year's winner, 23-year-old Dika Restiyani, was a post-graduate student in international political economy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, owner of a small-scale doll-making business and founder of a South Jakarta-based charity that assists street children, according to a video about her on YouTube.
Judges sought "a good emotional, intellectual, and most importantly, spiritual intelligence", she says on the video.
Ghitta Laskrouiff, a fashion designer based in Morocco, applauded the WMB initiative.
"I think this event is great; we don't have this kind of competition," Ghitta said, urging organisers to promote the event in Morocco via local websites.
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