Muslim pageant hopefuls rebuked in Malaysia

The fate of four young Muslim women suddenly disqualified from a beauty pageant has grabbed headlines and sparked debate in Malaysia.

By Grace Chen for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur

August 02, 2013
Reset Text smaller larger

Four young Malaysian women got more attention than they bargained for when they were barred from participating in a high-profile beauty pageant last month, due to their religion.

  • Miss Malaysia Tourism 2013 Thaarah Ganesan (in purple) poses with 2nd runner up Jennifer Ling (in red) and 1st runner up Renee Tan Joe May (in blue) at the pageant finale in Kuala Lumpur on July 7th. Due to a fatwa banning Muslim participation, few ethnic Malays compete in such contests. In late July, four Muslim finalists were disqualified from Miss Malaysia World 2013. [Grace Chen/Khabar]

    Miss Malaysia Tourism 2013 Thaarah Ganesan (in purple) poses with 2nd runner up Jennifer Ling (in red) and 1st runner up Renee Tan Joe May (in blue) at the pageant finale in Kuala Lumpur on July 7th. Due to a fatwa banning Muslim participation, few ethnic Malays compete in such contests. In late July, four Muslim finalists were disqualified from Miss Malaysia World 2013. [Grace Chen/Khabar]

Related Articles

Miss Malaysia World pageant organiser Anna Lim disqualified the four Muslim finalists after Federal Territories Mufti Wan Zahidi Wan Teh commented in an online post that participation in such contests was illegal and against Muslim law.

"Out of respect for the religion, we had to follow the rules and disqualify the four girls," Lim told The Star Online.

The disqualified contestants – who initially expressed disappointment at having to quit the contest – rushed to apologise after top Islamic officials said they could be prosecuted for questioning the fatwa and insulting Islam.

They had been made to understand Muslim girls could participate, one said, since the international Miss World competition is being held in Muslim-majority Indonesia in September, with contestants donning sarongs instead of swimwear out of respect for the host nation.

"This is not about the rule of no bikinis. The fatwa clearly states that Muslim women cannot join beauty pageants," Malaysian Insider quoted Jamil Khir Baharom, minister in the Prime Minister's Department, as saying.

Muslim women are better off taking part in competitions that emphasise beauty and brains, added his deputy, Mashitah Ibrahim. "Intellectual competitions are more beneficial to beautiful women, as well as religiously appropriate," she told Bernama.

Brave, or brash?

Historically, Muslim women are no strangers to Malaysian beauty pageants. Several went on to represent Malaysia in international contests. But few have participated since 1996, when a fatwa declared the participation of Muslim women in beauty contests as haram and sinful.

Radio deejay Yasmin Yussuf, who represented the country in Acapulco, Mexico as Miss Malaysia World 1978, called the four Muslim Miss World contestants – Sara Amelia Muhammad Bernard, Wafa Johanna De Korte, Miera Sheikh and Kathrina Ridzuan – "brave".

She advised them to pay heed to the fatwa, while expressing regret for the impact it has had on the contest.

"I understand the reason for the fatwa, but back in my day, we really lived with the 1Malaysia concept. Not once did any of us consider race an issue. The day Malays could not represent Malaysia was the end of Miss Malaysia because you don't have representation from more than half the population of the country," Yasmin told the Malay Mail.

A beauty queen title is not just a mark of prestige; it is also a stepping stone to fame and wealth. Actress, model and film producer Fazira Wan Chek, popularly known as Erra Fazira, was Miss Malaysia World in 1992. She landed the lead role in her first film after returning from representing Malaysia in the Miss World pageant.

The prizes are lucrative. Carey Ng, the reigning Miss Malaysia Universe 2013, walked away with RM 200,000 ($62,200) worth of products and services, including a cash prize of RM 48,000 ($15,000). She received an undisclosed monthly salary from the Miss Universe Malaysia organisation and a full scholarship from Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.

Models and gymnasts?

As the flap unfolded, Sisters In Islam (SIS), an Islamic group that advocates equal rights for women, expressed concern over the edict's reach: would it also apply to Muslim women in fashion shows and sports?

Two female gymnasts in the elite national squad are Muslims, as are some of Malaysia's top models.

In response, the Department of Islamic Development Director General Othman Mustapha asked SIS to stop "provocations and speculations" over the beauty pageant ban. Gender-based discrimination is non-existent, he said, if the texts of Islam are fully understood.

"In dealing with Islamic religious law, all parties, particularly SIS, should remember they are not to be indiscriminately debated by unqualified people, as it can create chaos and misunderstanding, thus tarnishing the religion and reputation of Muslims at large," he said.

Reader Comments
CLICK HERE to Add a Comment
    • syafrullah
      September 18, 2013 @ 11:09:14AM
    • This is good because we care about modern women with dignity. People who appreciate their time and think in the long term (the afterlife) are those who protect their sacred children (who are born in wedlock) whereas there are indications that those who participate in pageants are mostly illegitimate children, this means they are not in the same league as Muslim girls. The bodies of pageant women are cheaper than their clothes. This is evident that the body must be adjusted to suit the clothing and not the other way around, meaning it has to cover the body; this is smart. Why would we compare Indonesian girls who are known for maintaining their purity to girls who engage in promiscuity. Be serious. This is a basic attribute that girls need to have. I'm sorry, pageant holders seem smart but are stupid even if they hold doctorate degrees, but are without sense! Sorry.
    • Zulfikar
      September 10, 2013 @ 11:09:00PM
    • The law is the law, Allah has determined what is good and what is not so as his people we should obey. It should not be contested, who are we to comment on the law; we do not even know what we will eat tomorrow.
    • wan mohamad nor
      September 10, 2013 @ 08:09:12PM
    • Mr Universe. Compare women exposing themselves with exposed meat, they get tainted easily.
    • arujunan
      September 10, 2013 @ 08:09:43PM
    • I wish to share with the great Fatwah,Jais,Jakin. Which Islam rule does Malaysian follow. Iran, Indonesia,Pakistan,Arabs, Afgan,We can see women being control and not given even education. Killing fighting.Why which Islam says.I am confused why more trouble in Islam countires.There is not standard rules laid all mam made. Soo decide our self .No one tells others what to wear,eat, dress. We all have our own morales, and values.If compared the he above Islamic countries.Malaysia is much better. Dont screwed it up.1M. We know what to do. Do not need reglious fanitics to tell what to do.
    • Fauzi
      September 7, 2013 @ 11:09:19AM
    • First of all congratulation to Majlis Fatwa Malaysia for being very firm in this issue. In Islam, haram means haram and no Moslem can dispute it. We have to understand that it is for the sake of Moslem in Malaysia and the whole "ummah". .
    • shefful
      September 5, 2013 @ 10:09:38PM
    • Indeed we are clear on the intentions of those who participate in the competition. Parading oneself on a stage with the intention of being watched and judged based on their looks and form. A woman's true intelligence is judged when she comes out in style and not by her words.
    • Frankie
      September 3, 2013 @ 12:09:47PM
    • I am not clear on the last paragraph..... Is it that all the qualified people " debated and agreed", and the unqualified people just listen, not discusion, not need to clarify, no questioning ask ?
    • Nur Efendi
      August 30, 2013 @ 05:08:41AM
    • I like listening to romantic Malaysian songs.
    • firmansah
      August 22, 2013 @ 02:08:32PM
    • I like the Malaysian government. Religion is the most important, especially when it concerns the fact that women in Islam must cover their body. A woman's body from the tip of their hair to the soles of their feet.
    • Mr. Universe
      September 8, 2013 @ 11:09:06PM
    • firmansah, if you cover yourself like that, who will marry you? You will be a stranger to this world becoz no one will know how you look like.

Add A Comment (Comments Policy)* denotes required field


Indonesia has recently moved to increase the military's involvement in antiterrorism efforts. Do you approve of the military's expanded role?

Photo Essay

Typhoon Haiyan survivors prepare to board Australian and US C-130 aircraft departing storm-ravaged Tacloban on November 18th. [Photo courtesy of US Marines]

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Filipinos, allies fight to restore region