JAKARTA -- The Miss World beauty contest, which has attracted fierce opposition by hardline Islamic groups in host country Indonesia, is now facing another challenge -- a rival pageant exclusively for Muslims.
The Muslimah World contest to be held on Wednesday in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, is "Islam's answer to Miss World," the pageant's founder Eka Shanti said Saturday.
"Muslimah World is a beauty pageant, but the requirements are very different from Miss World -- you have to be pious, be a positive role model and show how you balance a life of spirituality in today's modernized world," Shanti told AFP.
The pageant is the latest backlash against Miss World, which has already dropped the bikini from its beach fashion round and has attracted more than a month of protests by Muslim hardliners demanding the show be scrapped.
Radicals have set effigies of the organizers alight and deemed the contest "smut" and "pornographic."
The 20 Muslimah World finalists were chosen from more than 500, who took part in online rounds, reciting Koranic verses and telling stories of how they came to wear the Islamic headscarf, a requirement for the pageant.
The finalists, from Iran, Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Indonesia, will parade Islamic fashions in what Shanti says is an opportunity to show young Muslim women they do not need to show their "immodest" parts -- including their hair and bare shoulders -- to be beautiful.
But Shanti said she did not support hardliners' calls to cancel the Miss World contest, acknowledging that Indonesia was a diverse country with many faiths.
"We don't just want to shout 'no' to Miss World. We'd rather show our children they have choices. Do you want to be like the women in Miss World? Or like those in Muslimah World?" Shanti said.
The Muslimah World finalists will be welcomed with open arms, with hundreds of women wearing headscarves planning to take part in what they call an "elegance rally" Sunday to greet the contestants and offer a moderate voice to the debate, Shanti said.
In contrast, Miss World contestants were again ridiculed Saturday, with around 300 members of the radical Islamic Defenders Front gathering in the capital, holding signs that read "Miss World is a whore contest."
Government officials gave in to hardliners last week and announced the Miss World final would be moved from the outskirts of Jakarta to the resort island of Bali, where the contest began last week with no opposition from the Hindu majority there.
Despite the decision to keep all Miss World activities off the Muslim-majority island of Java, protestors from the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia also demonstrated Saturday in the central Java city of Yogyakarta, where contestants had planned to visit but were forced to cancel their trip.
"Miss World is not welcome in Indonesia at all," a spokeswoman for the organization in Yogyakarta said.
MNC Group, the organizers and broadcaster of Miss World, said this week that they were not party to the government's decision and have said it would be "impossible" to make the last-minute move.
The decision to confine Miss World activities to Bali was the latest victory for Islamic fringe groups, who are wielding increasing power and have succeeded in getting several events they deem un-Islamic changed or cancelled in recent years.
Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after hardliners threatened to burn down the venue and criticized her for wearing only "a bra and panties."
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