Religion and politics take centre stage in pageant

Religion and politics take centre stage in pageant
Contestants of Muslimah World 2013, a pageant for Muslim women, applying make-up before the finale in Jakarta.

JAKARTA - For weeks, Indonesians have been fixated on the issue of beauty pageants.

Hardline and conservative Muslims have been campaigning to stop Indonesia from hosting Miss World 2013, even after the government relented to their demand that the Sept 28 finals be moved from the outskirts of Jakarta in Muslim-dominant Java to the Hindu island of Bali.

Islamic conservatives have tried to cast the debate as one about morality. But it could just as easily be seen as having to do with politics, and in particular manoeuvring ahead of the presidential election next year.

Tellingly, both the government and Islamic conservatives have done little about Miss World's rival, World Muslimah. Organised by a local Muslim group, the latter event held its final round on Wednesday in the capital.

Is there a double standard at work here?

Opponents of the Miss World contest have linked up with the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), the nation's highest authority on Islam, in their campaign against the pageant.

Their objection to the contest has been driven by two reasons.

First, Islam frowns upon the beauty contest because it involves violating women's modesty by having the contestants expose too much of themselves when they wear bikinis. An Islamic edict forbids women from exposing their "aurat", parts of the body that must be covered except to their husbands or relatives.

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