Behind The Scenes At The World Muslim Beauty Pageant

Published August 4, 2015
Updated September 14, 2015
Miss muslimah tour bus

The 2014 competition was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contestants are visiting Borobudur, an old Buddhist temple. Source: Monique Jaques

Before you ask if there’s a swimsuit competition, you should know that the Miss World Muslimah pageant is about much more than superficial definitions of beauty.

As Islam tends to place a high value on modesty, this contest focuses less on beauty’s physical aspects and more on its ideational ones: in this pageant, strength of character, intelligence, and piety matter most.

Unlike American beauty pageants, orphans–not celebrities or beauty experts–help choose the winners of Miss Muslimah. Like American beauty pageants, travel and minimal sleep largely define the contestants’ days in the pageant. As with their Western counterparts, the young participants in the Miss Muslimah competition hail from a variety of backgrounds and ages. In the past, winners have received prizes such as a pilgrimage to the Hajj, educational trips around the world, and scholarships.

World Muslimah Foundation organizes the competition, which was first held in 2011 in Jakarta, Indonesia. At that point in time, it was only open to Indonesians, but the pageant has since internationalized. Before entering the World Muslim competition, the 20 finalists must take part in a workshop in Jakarta, which includes Quran memorization, and classes on public speaking, humanitarianism, and women’s development.

As with any platform which places competitive value on women’s beauty, there is some debate on just what kind of Muslim woman this pageant is promoting–and if that woman is “empowered” at all. On the one hand, the headscarf–which isn’t abandoned by pageant participants–is seen by some as an object which diminishes the woman’s autonomy; on the other, that World Muslimah Foundation would host a competition in the first place is seen by some as antagonistic to the virtues of Muslim faith.

Learn more about the competition and participants below and make up your mind for yourself:

Miss muslimah guitar
Elis Sholihah leads the bus in a sing-along. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah last meal
Enjoying a last meal before the main event. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah hug
Participants form friendships that will likely last a lifetime. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah koran reading
The last Quran reading class before the pageant. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah snacks
More prayer and more snacks. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah indonesia
Miss Indonesia, posing in front of Borobudur. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah United kingdom
Dina Torkia from the United Kingdom makes her way off the bus. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah iran
Miss Iran enjoys a photo op. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah after praying
Leaving the mosque. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah head scarf
Nazreen Ali of India prepares. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah rest
Resting while checking their phones. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah final prayer
A time out for a quick prayer. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah shoe suitcase
Finding shoes prior to rehearsal. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah elderly
Elderly home visits play a large part in the sense of community and compassion that Miss Muslimah should represent. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss- muslimah malaysia
Nur Khairunnisa of Malaysia catches her breath on an elevator ride to the ball. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah asleep
The lack of sleep catches up with Miss Malaysia. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah water break
Miss Nigeria, Bilqis Adebayo, has advanced to the second round. She hydrates while getting re-styled. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah hair makeup
Bilqis Adebayo takes her turn in the makeup chair. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah rehearsal
Becoming acquainted with the stage during rehearsals. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah officers
Each contestant has a designated “Logistics Officer”. These LOs sneak in a nap between engagements. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah winner
Meet Miss Muslimah 2014, Fatma Ben Guefrache of Tunisia. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah morning after
Miss Tunisia packs up the morning after her big win. Source: Monique Jaques

miss muslimah locked arms
Some pageant challenges include financing and investing. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah backstage
Anxiously awaiting the pageant backstage. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah sash crown
Just one of the spoils of victory. Other prizes include trips and scholarship. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah busload
Transportation to the festivities. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss-muslimah-dresses
The costumes arrive. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah dessert table
Desserts are abundant at fancy events. Source: Monique Jaques

Miss muslimah praying
At a mosque before prayer time, which occurs several times per day. Source: Monique Jaques

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.