PETALING JAYA: At 21 years old, Nurul Husna Zainal Abidin from Kuala Kangsar became Malaysia's first representative to the World Muslimah Competition 2013 in Jakarta.
Previously, the World Muslimah was only open to Indonesians but this year it included contestants from across the world, drawing in hopefuls from Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Iran and Nigeria.
The 'Islam-themed' event, among the first of its kind, gives a different perspective to conventional pageants. For one thing, physical beauty is not a selection criterion.
"It is not a 'beauty' pageant because the focus is on inner beauty, not physical attraction," said Husna.
"The emphasis is on shaping role models for Muslim women around the world. In the ten days of activities, we woke up early in the morning for congregational Tahajud (voluntary night prayers) followed by Quran recitation and memorisation along with religious talks."
The talks, Husna said, highlighted women's special position in Islam.
"When I joined the event, I acquired knowledge not only about Islam but also about how Muslim women live in other parts of the world. I consider the opportunity a valuable gift," added Husna, who first heard about the event from an Indonesian friend via Twitter.
Although the girls were given intensive religious lessons, they also had some time allocated to learn about fashion and beauty.
"We were taught to be smart, solehah (pious) and stylish. Stylish in this context meant presenting yourself in a good manner with suitable clothing" she said.
During the event, Husna emerged as one of the top 10 finalists and bagged the prize for World Muslim Woman Netizen 2013, one of the 6 awards given out during the grand final ceremony.
The World Muslim Woman Netizen award is evaluated based on the contestant's popularity on internet sites such as Twitter, Facebook and through their following on hashtags.
"The event was something very new for me as I had never taken part in an international competition before," said Husna who added that she learned a lot about life in Indonesia.
In Indonesia, discrimination against women who use the headscarf is more common than in Malaysia, said Husna.
Eka Shanti, the founder of World Muslimah, lost her job as a news presenter because of her refusal to take off her headscarf.
"We want to try and spread news and change. We would like to show that wearing the headscarf is empowering," said Husna
"We often hear of cases where women are oppressed and abused. Even in Malaysia, sexist remarks are common. The programme hopes to spread the message that women have a special position in Islam," said Husna of the competition which strongly advocates women's rights.