The first Miss Headscarf contest was judged a couple of months ago in Copenhagen, Denmark. The organisers developed the idea in response to the recent controversy surrounding the Mohammed cartoons and ensuing debates on the appropriateness of Muslim women’s headscarves in Denmark. (Entrants don’t have to be Muslim; anyone can enter by submitting a photo of themselves wearing a headscarf). The contest organisers see MIss Headscarf 2008 as a way to give a much-needed visibility to the views of “all the Muslim women who are seldom heard in the debate.” As one of the contestants said, “it’s about the time the media talked to us, and not about us all the time.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/2044680/Miss-Headscarf-contest-for-Muslims-attacked.html)
The pageant has received criticism from those who believe it is disrespectful to Muslims and trivialises the hijab, and those who argue it glorifies what they see as a symbol of female oppression. Interestingly, the contest seemed to both embrace and reject ‘traditional’ beauty pageants. The reasons for which the judges decided to award the title to Iraqi-born Huda Falah ranged from the attractiveness of her “royal blue headscarf [which] makes a sharp contrast to her dark brown skin” and another judge’s impression of her scarf’s colour as showing “attitude and impact.” Some have argued that the focus on appearance in this competition may be at odds with the purpose of a headcovering in Islam.
A beauty pagaent for those who wear headscarves is certainly an interesting way to make Muslim women more visible, but I wonder whether this risks casting Muslim women who don’t wear headscarves as ‘not real Muslims’. While it is undoubtedly imperative that women who wear headscarves speak about their own choices, perhaps there needs to be an event that allows Muslim women who choose not to wear a headscarf to participate alongside those who do wear one. Otherwise, is it really giving voice to the views of “all Muslim women” involved in the debate? Taking into account the views of non-veiled Muslim women alongside those who choose to wear the headscarf would certainly go some way towards challenging the image of Muslims as a homogenous group who oppress women by forcing them to live under layers of chiffon.