JAKARTA — In Indonesia, organizers of the “Miss World” beauty pageant have bowed to pressure from Islamic hardliners and moved the event to the Hindu-majority island Bali. But in the country’s capital, Muslim women from across the globe took to the catwalk to compete in a Miss World of their own.
At Miss Muslimah 2013, glamorous, floor-length hijabs - not bikinis - are the official attire on the catwalk.
The pageant is touted as ‘Islam’s answer to Miss World’ and included contestants from as far as Iran and Nigeria.
Eka Shanti, a former Indonesian TV anchor founded the event after losing her job because she refused to take off her headscarf on air.
Shanti said the Jakarta event was held in deliberate defiance of the controversial Miss World contest in Bali. Muslimah, she argued, promotes an alternative, more modest, idea of beauty.
Miss Mulismah contestants are required to wear hijab in their daily lives. They were judged on how well they recited Koranic verses and on their views on Islam and the modern world.
Andreas Harsono from the Indonesian branch of Human Rights Watch said both Miss World and Miss Mulismah are essentially beauty contests and so are not that different from each other.
“They [Miss World and Muslimah] are talking about the beauties of women, albeit this one is branded with Islam wearing the hijab ectera, it is ok," said Harsono. "Meanwhile if the same argument is being used against them, exposing sexuality, of course this Islamic contest can also be branded as un-Islamic. It is a total discrimination against anything that is branded against Islam.”
Harsono added that keeping up Islamic appearances is also on the rise, with more than 100 local bylaws requiring women to wear hijab.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and many there practice a moderate form of Islam.
But fringe groups of Islamic hardliners have been up in arms over plans to hold the Miss World final near Jakarta.
Describing the contest as "pornographic," protesters threatened to hijack the event and even burnt effigies of the organizers.
Miss World organizers had already promised to exclude their bikini contest and use sarongs instead, but hardliners were not appeased.
The government finally buckled, instructing Miss World to move its final to the mostly Hindu island Bali, where the event first opened on September 8.
British, U.S., and Australian embassies have since issued warning that extremists may still attack the event.
Harsono said the decision shows the government has failed to take a stand against religious extremists.
“It shows that Muslim hardliners have a lot of influence over the government to move this Miss World competition... It shows they are effective just by protesting with 1,000-2,000 people, they can move this event to Bali. And even in Bali they want to stop the event,” said Harsono.
This is the first year Muslimah has accepted international contestants and is the third time it has been held since 2011.
Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, a 21-year-old Nigerian woman took home the grand prize, which included some $2,000 in prize money and a trip to Mecca and India.
In India, Ajibola will help raise money to educate the children of sex workers.