Organiser regrets ban on Muslim girls to join pageant in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA - Miss Malaysia World official pageant organiser Datuk Anna Lim and the disqualified finalists are surprised and sad over the banning of Muslim girls participating in the 2013 beauty contest.

Four finalists for the Miss Malaysia World beauty pageant - Sara Amelia Bernard, Wafa Johanna De Korte, Miera Sheikh and Kathrina Ridzuan - were dropped from the competition after criticism from Federal Territory mufti Datuk Wan Zahidi Wan The that their participation was "sinful".

"I disqualified the girls because he (Wan Zahidi) posted a comment online saying that these girls are doing something illegal and against the Muslim law," said Lim.

"So out of respect for the religion we had to follow the rules and disqualify the four girls. However, I haven't actually received a copy of that particular rule before," she told The Star Online.

Lim said she had been trying to arrange for a meeting with Wan Zahidi to discuss his statement and had been unsuccessful so far but was hoping to get a favourable reply.

"If Miss World pageant can be held in Muslim countries such as Indonesia, I don't see why it cannot be so in Malaysia," added Lim.

Sara Amelia, one of the four Miss Malaysia World 2013 pageant finalists who were disqualified, also expressed her disappointment.

"I think it came from a 1996 ruling. However, since then, the first Muslim woman (Rima Fakih) won the title in the United States in 2010. Even United Kingdom had a Muslim winner (2006 Miss England Hammasa Kohistani)," said the 20-year-old of British Malay and German Iban decent.

She said she wanted to know if the ruling also meant that Muslim women were banned from wearing swimsuits and taking part in fashion shows.

Bernard said her reason for joining the pageant was to "promote intellectual women" as beauty pageant was not about parading in sexy outfits but it was about charity and personality.

Another contestant who was dropped, 19-year-old Wafa, said that she was saddened by the disqualification.

"We were informed at the Miss Malaysia interview that Muslim women are allowed to join," she said.

"I was so excited that Muslim women are able to represent our country at one of the largest international competitions."

"We were told that all Malay girls will be wearing sports attire in the Malaysian finals and that the swimsuit section was taken out of the whole competition in the Miss World finals," she added.

Wafa believes that the situation had been blown out of proportion.

"Steps were already taken to ensure that Malay girls were not put in a position where they had to show off too much skin," she said.

Former Miss Malaysia Universe of 1978 Yasmin Yusoff also expressed her surprise because the beauty pageant world had pretty much accepted the fact that Malay girls could not enter the contest.

"In a way it is sad because we have so many beautiful Malay girls out there. But now let's focus on the girl who is going to win," she said.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) expressed concern over the reach of 1996 ruling to control public conduct of Muslims in terms of dress and indecency, especially when the organisers had given an assurance that the contestants will be wearing long pants instead of swimming suits.

Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman questioned as to why the Miss Malaysia organisers were unaware of the Fatwa.

"The girls shouldn't have joined in the first place. The ruling has been known for the past few years," said Azalina.

"They should also have been more sensitive. It is a sensitive environment right now especially during the fasting month," she said.