Here’s my issue with the “Muslim Beauty Pageant” that Miss Nairobi won.
I love my Muslim sisters and I am very proud of those who are strong in their Islam and who can recite Qur’an. But let’s be real. You can recite Qur’an all day long, but if you are not LIVING by what the Qur’an teaches then your words are just meaningless drivel no matter how beautiful the voice with which you recite.
Beauty contests are exercises in tabarruj, and tabarruj is forbidden in Islam. What is tabarruj? It is when a woman makes a wanton display of her beauty. But, you say, they are all in hijab! What IS hijab? First of all, hijab is an INNER measure of one’s modesty, and I find little of modesty in parading in front of MEN AND WOMEN who are not related to me and don’t know me from anybody else in the world to look at me. Covered or not covered. The women did not come out with simple unadorned abayas, scarves, and shoes. They came out with ostentatiously designed gowns, scarves intricately wrapped, adorned, and piled high, high heels with laquered toes showing, and heavy makeup. It may have been “hijab” in theory, but in actuality the clothing was specifically designed to do the opposite of what modest garments do – it made everyone look.
Who was in that hall? This was not an intimate gathering of Muslim women gathering for tea and some Islamic studies, admiring the subtle cut of a gown not to be seen except by mahram males and exchanging advice on how to dress appropriately outside. This was a hall with men and women, and the television took these ladies into even more homes. Men are encouraged to lower their gazes, but instead in this event they were tacitly given permission to look and look again in the guise of religious admiration.
Make no mistake about it – those women were objectified just like the women of the “normal” pageants. Just because the organizers stamped the imprimatur of Islam on top of it doesn’t make it right.
Remember that the beauty of a Muslim woman comes from the inside, and it is not a beauty that screams “look at me!” It is a quiet thing. It is the mother who sets aside the last piece of fruit for her child for when she comes home from school. It is the employee who is ethical and doesn’t take home office supplies. It is the college student who studies hard without getting distracted by her partying friends. It is the wife who supports her husband. It is the woman driving who lets someone trying to enter the highway go in front of her. It is the woman who volunteers at the food pantry or the homeless shelter. It is the woman who calls her mom to check on her every day. It is the tall, short, heavyset, rail thin, dark, light, mixed, Arab, Pakistani, Mauritian, Korean, Mexican woman who wears clean clothing moderately priced, who looks nice and even stylish but not ostentatious, who decides that she’d rather give money to the masjid’s zakah fund rather than buy that “perfect” scarf she saw online. The beauty of a Muslim woman cannot be measured by her clothing or even necessarily by how well she recites Qur’an. They are only pieces of a bigger puzzle. Buying into the pageant mentality does a disservice to Muslim women everywhere. It does not raise the bar, it cheapens the religion. And Allah knows best.