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Pageant Contends With World's Political, Safety Woes

Muslim Contestants Say They're At Peace With Pageant And Religion

Miss Universe Pageant Contends With World's Political, Safety Woes


MAY 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Miami Herald. All Rights Reserved.

It's a battle of beauty, but the world's political messes are washing ashore on this Caribbean island, where the 51st Miss Universe pageant is being held in less than two weeks.

Miss Lebanon has refused to come because Miss Israel is here. Miss Trinidad and Tobago is getting flak because she's Muslim. And Miss Egypt almost wasn't Miss Egypt after organizers toyed with the idea of canceling the competition after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''We have to be careful how we organize events, who we match as roommates, and even who we put together for photos,'' said Mary Hilliard, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Miss Universe franchise.

Delegates from 76 countries are preparing for the May 29 contest. So far, none of the events has turned ugly, organizers say.

In previous years, organizers were careful not to mix Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel. This year, however, the problem took care of itself.

''Miss Lebanon isn't even here this year,'' Hilliard said. ``Her national pageant director didn't feel it was right to have her spend three weeks in the same hotel with Miss Israel.''

Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, but tensions between the two countries remain.

This month, Israeli warplanes overflew Syrian military in central and eastern Lebanon, drawing anti-aircraft fire.

''It's very bad, too bad,'' Miss Lebanon didn't come, said Miss Israel, Yamit Har-Noy, 20, who took time out from serving her mandatory two years service in the Israeli military to compete in the pageant.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the recent turmoil in Israel, Egypt decided not to hold its nationally televised contest and instead held a makeshift untelevised pageant with only nine competitors. Last year's runner-up, Sally Shaheen, was chosen to represent Egypt. It plans to hold the real contest in July.

''This is my first time out of the Middle East, and I was afraid,'' Shaheen, 24, said.

Ongoing tensions in the Middle East have also kept organizers from placing Miss Egypt and Miss Israel next to each other on stage, but this year's Miss Egypt said she is ``friends with Miss Israel.''

Security has also been heightened at the pageant, security director Willie Newman said. The number of security guards has increased more than 10 percent.

There has also been a minor controversy over Muslim candidates. Some Muslim groups in Trinidad and Tobago have complained that the Caribbean nation's Muslim candidate, Nasma Mohammed, is an embarrassment to the faith.

''I'm very religious,'' says Mohammed, a 23-year-old bank trainee with a bachelor's degree in management and chemistry. ``My faith has given me an inner peace to accomplish many of my goals.''

Miss Turkey and Miss Greece are also never paired together because of territorial disputes over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

''I think she's great, and I like [Miss Turkey] very much,'' Miss Greece, Lena Paparrigopoulou, said.

''We are all different cultures here together,'' Turkey's Cagla Kuba said. ``I want to show this is possible also in politics.''

Despite a common language, Miss Venezuela and Miss Puerto Rico also won't be roommates. When Miss Universe Denise Quinones visited Venezuela last year, the South American country's media pounced on the Puerto Rican beauty queen, saying she had gained a few pounds.

But while the world watches her country in turmoil, Miss Israel said the conflicts shouldn't taint the pageant's purpose.

''The pageant has nothing to do with politics,'' she said. ``It's just a beauty contest.''

Donning Black Bikinis, Muslim Miss Universe Contestants Say They're At Peace With Pageant And Religion


MAY 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Donning a black bikini, Nasma Mohammed is like many beauty queens - young and ambitious - but unlike most of this year's 76 Miss Universe contestants, she is also Muslim.

Shrugging off criticism from Muslim groups who say the display of flesh goes against Islam, the candidate from the oil-rich Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago says her faith has helped her get where she is.

"I'm very religious. My faith has given me an inner peace to accomplish many of my goals," says Mohammed, a 23-year-old bank trainee with a bachelor's degree in management and chemistry.

Mohammed is one of four Muslim contestants at the 2002 Miss Universe pageant being held on this U.S. Caribbean territory May 29. The other candidates come from Turkey, Singapore and Egypt - all secular nations.

"No God fearing woman would enter a beauty contest. It is against all the teachings about modesty and good behavior," said Mansoor Ibraham of Astra Anjuman Sunaat Ul Jamaat, a Muslim group in Trinidad.

Mohammed acknowledges the opposition.

"In everything you find opposition. What's in your heart and mind is more important than what is on your body," she said.

Trinidad and Tobago's population of 1.3 million is split almost evenly between descendants of African slaves and indentured servants from India. The East Indian population is divided between Hindus and Muslims and some Afro-Trinidadians have converted to Islam.

The culture, although conservative in nature, is pure Caribbean in its attitude toward dress, illustrated by its raucous Carnival.

Mohammed said she doesn't follow all the orthodox tenets of the faith, but she prays daily and observes Muslim holidays, such as Ramadan.

"Yes, I am in my swimsuit, but I'm in a very controlled environment," she says. "I'm showing women that it's good to stay healthy and fit."

Jodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations, said women can find other ways to show their intelligence and ambitions without putting their bodies on display.

"Beauty contests judge women on their bodies," she said. "For Muslims the interaction between men and women is based on modesty."

In 1972, prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan held its first and only pageant giving Zohra Daoud the title of Miss Afghanistan.

"It was an encouragement for youth achievements. It wasn't a beauty contest then," said Daoud from her Malibu, California home. Daoud fled to the United States after the Soviets invaded in 1979, and in 1996 she founded the Afghan Women's Association of Southern California, which raises funds for humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

That 1972 competition held no swimsuit competition and the dresses were very conservative, said Daoud.

"The beauty contest in the West is a commercial thing. I am really against the swimsuit competition," she said.

Miss Egypt, Sally Shaheen, says her desire to be a reigning beauty queen is also within the parameters of her faith.

"Religion is not something to tell you what to do or what not to do," said 24-year-old Shaheen, who studied communications and hopes one day to own her own television station. "I don't harm anyone here."

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