By Zaufishan Iqbal - A British Muslim woman, Shanna Bukhari, entered the Miss Universe contest, triggering an onslaught of criticism, objection and death threats.
“Why, oh why, oh why?” is how I responded.
My first why? is towards the Miss Universe contest itself. A beauty pageant at its core is a misogynistic event. Yes, yes, the pro-fashion-industry-agents will raise their banners in defense of female empowerment, but people, wake up. A beauty pageant does not elevate women, it perpetuates a European-Western female beauty standard based on how men wish to perceive women. It’s not healthy for women let alone what it does for men.
This is no IQ test. It’s not about intellect, contribution to community, a woman’s roles or skills. It’s all about looks. I don’t want our children growing up in an environment where that standard is what they aspire towards, but here’s the thing: I’m not going to start bashing Bukhari for entering the contest. She has her own conscience.
But then why? do I hear agitated questions in my mind such as, “How dare a Muslim woman enter a shallow competition? And, does she represent Islam or Britain or Pakistan?”
Here’s the reality. We live in British society, not a village in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. We live in a country where, as British citizens, Freedom is made available to all. Some of us don’t like how others use freedom; some of us use it to our advantage.
We have the freedom to believe in God and live out that belief, or reject it entirely. We have the freedom to explore, experience and educate. And we have the freedom from prejudice.
So, we need to ask ourselves, is the beauty pageant illegal in Britain? No. Is it immoral? For some yes, for others, no. In Islamic tradition, beauty pageants do not exist, there is no merit for recognition solely by the outer appearance. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ defined real beauty saying,
“Allah does not look to your faces [bodies] and your wealth but He looks to your heart’s purity and to your deeds.” (Muslim, Book #32)
Let’s be honest here too, we are not really fussed by the contest as we are by knowing “one of our own” is participating. Most of the negative comments towards Bukhari came from Muslim men. Bukhari also attracted harsh criticism from feminists, oh, how I’ve missed their zealot feminising.
A sensitive case like this requires a sensible approach from Islam in dealing with the issue involved which is “Why should any woman enter such pageants?” Ah, there’s the crux of the problem.
Shanna Bukhari is entitled to define her own identity. If she doesn’t want to identify with Islam, and wants to identify as Pakistani or British or some combination, that’s her choice. The kind of reaction that people have given her is not going to make her rethink her identity. If anything, severe criticism is going to re-affirm the thought, “this is why I don’t identify as a Muslim woman”.
On the other hand, whether we agree with the contest or not (I do not agree, I repeat, I do not – underline and highlight), we do not have the Islamic right (haq) to threaten anyone with our point-of-view. We can simply not agree. But we do have an unfulfilled role as Muslims to at the very least, talk about these issues with understanding so that the correct and liberating Islamic perspectives can be unpeeled. Not many of us are willing to talk with decorum.
I also want to add here that the difference between understanding (fahm) and knowledge (`ilm) can be the difference between success and failure, especially when trying to solve problems in the real world.
Without understanding, we are merely machines spewing out information at emotional speeds hoping other machines will absorb and implement that knowledge. Is that how we interact? Why do we blatantly ignore real issues like the breakdown of Muslim marriages and neglect of Muslim women’s professionalism, but build hype over a beauty contest? Is it that important to us?
Islam’s position on the issue is clear, just like we know that taking drugs, sex before marriage, showing bad behavior to parents, eating pork, wearing revealing clothing are all forbidden in Islam. Despite this, many young muslims around us disregard Allah’s Laws in these issues and feel more comfortable in allowing the environment to shape our ideals, behaviors, likes, dislikes and the goals for which we strive for in life
In the complex world we live in today where people are juggling with different labels, Muslim, British, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, these are the times when we can reflect upon our identity. Who am I? What shapes my values? How do I make my decisions in life? What is good? What is bad? Do I need to believe in something to have a good life? Is my identity defined by my place of Birth or by the origins of my parents homeland or my belief in Islam?
There are real issues we need to deal with. Muslims in the West need to turn their televisions off – they’ll keep churning out that distracting rubbish – get up and get involved.
Islam is not a religion of whiners and “haram police”, we are people of action who do. If we had spent less time complaining and more time doing, we’d see that a little nasiha was the only make-up required to win.