To take part in a unique beauty pageant, where orphans were the judges, Ms Masturah Jamil took the plunge and quit her job.
The 27-year-old, who was an allied educator at a secondary school for the last four years, could not take the leave she needed to take part in the World Muslimah Award in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
"It was a really, really hard decision. It was my bread and butter and I was leaving for something so unfamiliar," she said.
But given her age, it was her last shot at experiencing the pageant, which is open to Muslim women between 18 and 27 years old.
"This is very different from other pageants and it's particularly meaningful for Muslim women. I wanted to do what I felt was right for me," said Ms Masturah, who had the support of her hawker parents.
And her first foray into a beauty contest has paid off.
Ms Masturah, who was the first Singaporean at the contest since its launch in 2011, made it to the top 10, out of 18 finalists. She was also one of the three winners of the Most Inspiring Muslimah award at the final on Nov 21, earning her a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Tunisian computer scientist Fatma Ben Guefrache, 25, was the overall winner. Her prizes include a gold watch, a Muslim tour to Korea and a pilgrimage to Mecca as well.
In the 10 days before the final, Ms Masturah spent her time visiting nursing homes, learning batik painting and attending religious classes with the rest of the finalists, who came from countries such as the Netherlands, Britain and Trinidad and Tobago.
She said: "We did a homestay with the orphanages too, and it was fun interacting with the kids. They were very cute and were curious to know more about us."
And with good reason.
At the three-hour final, which was streamed live online, the overall winner was chosen by about 100 underprivileged children and orphans.
First, the finalists were judged on their Quran recital, with 10, including Ms Masturah, making it to the next round, where they gave a one-minute speech on their aspirations.
Then, five were picked to answer a question from the judges. Two made it to the final round, where the children decided who deserved the crown.
The event is organised by the World Muslimah Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Indonesia.
The most enriching part of the experience for Ms Masturah was that she "got to meet people from all over the world".
She said: "That, to me, was the real reward. I'm planning to go to Mecca with the other girls who also won the pilgrimage (prize). "They also shared what it was like being a Muslim back home.
"One said she was called a terrorist for wearing a headscarf. I'm very fortunate to be in Singapore, where people are accepting of differences."
While her parents were unable to fly to Indonesia to support her, her aunt and uncle did.
Now back in Singapore, Ms Masturah, who has a specialist diploma in teaching and learning from the National Institute of Education, is undecided about her next career.
"But my friends are happy for me, and say it's great I followed my heart."
This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
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