Malaysian girl makes Top 10 in 2013 World Muslimah contest in Indonesia

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 02 Oct 2013

PETALING JAYA: At 21 years old, Nurul Husna Zainal Abidin from Kuala Kangsar became Malaysia’s first representative to the World Muslimah Competition 2013 in Jakarta. 

Previously, the World Muslimah was only open to Indonesians but this year it included contestants from across the world, drawing in hopefuls from Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Iran and Nigeria.

The ‘Islam-themed’ event, among the first of its kind, gives a different perspective to conventional pageants. For one thing, physical beauty is not a selection criterion. 

“It is not a ‘beauty’ pageant because the focus is on inner beauty, not physical attraction,” said Husna. 

“The emphasis is on shaping role models for Muslim women around the world. In the ten days of activities, we woke up early in the morning for congregational Tahajud (voluntary night prayers) followed by Quran recitation and memorisation along with religious talks.”

The talks, Husna said, highlighted women’s special position in Islam. 

“When I joined the event, I acquired knowledge not only about Islam but also about how Muslim women live in other parts of the world. I consider the opportunity a valuable gift,” added Husna, who first heard about the event from an Indonesian friend via Twitter.

Although the girls were given intensive religious lessons, they also had some time allocated to learn about fashion and beauty. 

“We were taught to be smart, solehah (pious) and stylish. Stylish in this context meant presenting yourself in a good manner with suitable clothing” she said.

During the event, Husna emerged as one of the top 10 finalists and bagged the prize for World Muslim Woman Netizen 2013, one of the 6 awards given out during the grand final ceremony.

The World Muslim Woman Netizen award is evaluated based on the contestant’s popularity on internet sites such as Twitter, Facebook and through their following on hashtags.

“The event was something very new for me as I had never taken part in an international competition before,” said Husna who added that she learned a lot about life in Indonesia.  

In Indonesia, discrimination against women who use the headscarf is more common than in Malaysia, said Husna. 

Eka Shanti, the founder of World Muslimah, lost her job as a news presenter because of her refusal to take off her headscarf. 

“We want to try and spread news and change. We would like to show that wearing the headscarf is empowering,” said Husna

“We often hear of cases where women are oppressed and abused. Even in Malaysia, sexist remarks are common. The programme hopes to spread the message that women have a special position in Islam,” said Husna of the competition which strongly advocates women’s rights. 

Despite the organisers’ noble intentions, Husna’s involvement has not come without its share of criticism.

Husna said that although she received many positive and encouraging comments from fans via social media, there were also those who did not approve of the competition. 

World Muslimah’s Islamic approach treads on a thin grey area. While some laud the idea of promoting headscarves and covered clothing, other say that the showcasing of women is not something that should be encouraged in the religion. 

Critics point out that the make up, display and pageantry of the event does not run in tandem with Islam’s idea of humility, even though Islamic elements such as Quranic recital and prayer are present. 

When asked on how the event hopes to ‘assess’ a contestant’s piety, something immeasurable, Jameyah Sheriff, a Malaysian judge at the competition said that the adjudication process looked at how a Muslim woman should ideally present herself. 

“Judges observe their attitude, personalities, behaviour and understanding of Islam,” she said of the contestants who were asked questions regarding Islamic fundamentals, finance and IT during the grand finals.

Jameyah, a social activist for women and children, said that the competition grooms and teaches Muslims girls to contribute and involve themselves in community projects.

“We want all the girls to help out in their respective communities,’ she said, adding that Husna is planning to involve herself in children’s welfare programmes which Jameyah also organises.

“Our goal is to build respected and intelligent Muslimahs who can be leaders.”

“At first, I was sceptical but when I went there, I realised that it was not about physical beauty. Instead, importance was placed on the Q&A sessions, contestants’ personalities and public awareness.

“What is most important is their concern for humanity, peace and dedication in being a role model,” she said of the competition, which was conducted with advice from the Majlis Ulama Indonesia.
The overall winner of the event, Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola of Nigeria, was chosen by the votes of 100 orphan guests and received a cash prize of 25 million rupiah (RM7000) and trips to Mecca and India.

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