Beauty queens and civil liberties: A peculiar Malaysian dilemma

The beauty contestants who were dropped (from left): Wafa Johanna, Kathrina, Miera and Sara Amelia. — The Malay Mail pic
The beauty contestants who were dropped (from left): Wafa Johanna, Kathrina, Miera and Sara Amelia. — The Malay Mail pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 — Miera Sheikh has always dreamed of becoming a beauty queen, an ambition that some may dismiss as frivolous.

When the 19-year-old and three other young Muslim women were recently barred from competing in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty pageant, no one took to the streets to protest the violation of their civil liberties, unlike the time when thousands of Malaysians protested for the right to free and fair elections. 

But the simple fact is this, forbidding those four young women from participating and even watching the beauty pageant is to deny them a personal freedom.

“They did not allow us to join the beauty pageant even though I would like to join,” Miera told The Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“One of my passions is to promote my own country by doing good activities and something to do with society,” said the SPM graduate, who hopes to pursue a career in modelling or acting.

The Islamic authorities deemed Miera’s simple desire to represent Malaysia in an international beauty contest illegal, pointing to a fatwa (religious edict) that was issued and gazetted under the Federal Territories Islamic Administration Act in 1996.

Miera, however, pointed out that she had joined three other beauty pageants before the Miss Malaysia World 2013, placing as a finalist in the Miss Malaysia Tourism 2013, as well as first runner-up in the Miss Malaysia Kebaya 2012 and in the Pencarian Si Gadis for YOURS magazine 2013.

“Therefore, I presumed that the issue of Muslim girls’ participation has been cleared or allowed by this organiser for this Miss Malaysia World,” said Miera.

Miss Malaysia World 2013 organiser Datuk Anna Lim expressed her disappointment that the country could not be represented by Malays, the majority group, in an international beauty pageant.

“The main concern is race, not religion,” Lim said.

“Being 1 Malaysia, I have no prejudice or favour towards any race. As long as they are Malaysians, I think an opportunity should be given,” she added.

Lim said Malay girls are “very pretty”, noting their tan skin, good manners and good education as definite pluses in any competition.

The way things stand now, Malaysia will never be represented by a Malay/Muslim woman in an international beauty pageant even though the Malays make up a majority of the population.

Miera said she accepted the religious authorities’ decision with an “open heart” and called it a “blessing in disguise” as “I take it as a lesson for me to be more matured since I am now aspiring to be in the entertainment line.”

“Besides support from friends, my family has been my great supporter,” said Miera.

“Especially my dad, who has given me his full support and understands my passion, interest and dreams. However, he never fails to remind me of our roots and to stand as a Muslim until our last breath,” added the young woman, who has mixed blood as her father’s ancestors are Arab, while her mother is of Arab-Malay, Pakistani, Australian and Javanese ancestry.

Sara Amelia Bernard, another of the dropped contestants, advised other girls who wished to join beauty pageants to be a “good role model to younger girls.”

“Be true to yourself,” the 20-year-old told The Malay Mail Online.

“Have values and virtue... don’t skip meals — eat healthy and exercise. Read a lot of books, always be updated on news and current affairs around the world,” she added.

Sara Amelia also stressed that it was crucial to be kind and compassionate.

The young woman said recently that she and another dropped finalist, Wafa Johanna De Korte, received the most criticism for speaking out against the prohibition by the Federal Territories Islamic Department (JAWI).

The four dropped finalists — including Kathrina Ridzuan — were accused of insulting Islam, leading to an investigation by JAWI.

Kathrina and Wafa Johanna did not respond to calls or messages when contacted by The Malay Mail Online yesterday.

Melinder Kaur Bhullar, a Punjabi, was crowned Miss Malaysia World 2013 last Friday.

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