The third annual “Miss World Muslimah” beauty pageant for Muslim women, , which garnered international media attention, was recently held in Jakarta. One of its contestants, a young woman living in Iran, tells us why she decided to participate.
The contest’s final round took place just a few days before that of Miss World, which was also held in Indonesia this year. According to its organisers, while contestants were judged in part on their beauty, other factors also weighed heavily, like Islamic fashion, knowledge of the Koran, and demonstrating Islam’s values in their everyday life.
An advertisement of this year's World Muslimah pageant from its website. 
To participate, contestants first had to submit 3-minute videos in which they showed these strengths; after two rounds of elimination, 20 finalists were flown to Jakarta from all over the world on September 18. The winner, who this year hailed from Nigeria, won an all-expenses pilgrimage trip to Mecca. One of two Iranian women who participated landed in fifth place.
Our Observer Samaneh Zand, 24, a designer from Shiraz in southwest Iran, made it to the semi-finals, but not to the finals.

“I wouldn’t have taken part in one of those pageants that are just about looks”

I learned from the World Muslimah website that they were interested in having Iranian girls participate this year. I read all about what they were looking for, and when I was quite sure this wasn’t an event like Miss World, I decided to participate. I wouldn’t have wanted to take part in a regular beauty pageant where people are just interested in your appearance and fake smiles. But with World Muslimah I felt I could present myself the way I am, and correct some wrong ideas about Iranians.
A lot people I met abroad in my travels believed that Iranian girls cannot go out and be active members of society. So I wanted to show in my video submission that I am actually very active: going out with friends, playing sports, and meeting foreigners is all absolutely normal for me.
Samaneh Zand's video submission.
I also wanted to show that Islam is not only about marriage and covering yourself up, and that a hijab doesn’t stop me from being active. There are Iranian girls who don’t like wearing hijabs – they might not want to participate in an event like World Muslimah, but that’s fine. [Editor’s Note: In Iran, it is compulsory for women to cover their heads in public.] For me, living in an Islamic country does not mean that everyone needs to be Muslim or should be forced to believe.
I am not proud to see Iranian girls who live abroad participating in events like Miss World or Miss Norway. [Norway has a large community of Iranian exiles]. It’s their choice, but I think these events are all about beauty, which you are either born with or not. It would make me a lot prouder to hear that an Iranian girl got an international prize for mathematics, or something of the sort.