Beauty pageants have gotten a bad rap over the years for objectifying women by putting them on parade and privileging their looks over their personality or brains. Some pageants have actively tried to change this idea, by including a talent segment, and making charity work an increasingly bigger part of the winners’ duties. One such pageant for Muslim women was the 2011 Indonesian Muslimah Beauty competition, which emphasised women who “don hijab, have Internet and technology capabilities, Qur’an-reciting proficiencies, and accomplishments in sports, academics, and culture.”
Miss World is one of the classic beauty pageants, and in an apparent effort to reduce the emphasis on women’s external beauty, has dropped the swimsuit component from its competition. In the 2013 Miss World competition, to be held in the Muslim majority country of Indonesia (although not without protests from their ulama), participants would wear sports attire with long pants or beachwear made from a sarong (a traditional textile from the region) during the beachwear segment.
However, earlier this year in July 2013, four Malaysian Muslim finalists were dropped from the finals of Miss World Malaysia. They had competed unnoticed, until the spotlight was shone on them as finalists. Federal Territories Mufti Wan Zahidi Wan Teh had raised the issue of a 1996 fatwa which states that “participating, organising or contributing to any sort of beauty contest is haram and a sin.” The reason given for disqualifying them was that as Muslims, they should not “disrespect” or “insult” Islam by joining a beauty pageant.