Muslim beauty pageant created by Bexley resident touts modesty

Maya Fenter
mfenter@dispatch.com
Bexley resident Maghrib Shahid created the Miss Muslimah USA pageant to break down beauty stereotypes and celebrate modest women who wear a hijab.

Maghrib Shahid grew up watching pageants on TV, dreaming that one day, she could compete in one.

It was a dream she ultimately gave up.

"As I got older, I never saw anyone who looked like me," said Shahid, 39, a Bexley resident. "That dream just got slimmer and slimmer and slimmer."

So in 2016, she set out to create her own pageant specifically for women like her -- Muslim women who dress modestly and wear a hijab (a head covering worn by Muslim women).

"I wanted to show Muslim women that they're not alone and create a platform that celebrates the hijab, that empowers Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab," Shahid said.

Shahid is planning the fourth annual Miss Muslimah USA pageant, set for Aug. 27 in Detroit, with social-distancing measures and mask requirements.

Shahid held the first pageant in summer 2017 at COSI Columbus and did it all on what she called a "shoestring budget," using the money she had saved from sales of her modest clothing collection, Chimiwear, which she started in 2013 and found success selling on Facebook. Her savings originally were dedicated to her nine children, but she felt that this cause needed her attention more.

She said she initially struggled to gain support from the Muslim community, which, Shahid thinks, got caught up in pageantry stereotypes.

"When you think about pageantry, you think about skin, and Muslim women are not allowed to show certain parts of their bodies," Shahid said.

But Shahid has catered the pageant's events to fit the values and styles of modest Muslim women. Fifteen contestants, ages 17 to 30, compete in five categories: abayah, a robe-like dress; burkini, a modest swimsuit that covers the whole body except hands, feet and face; modest evening gown; talent; and speech.

For the speech portion, every contestant answers the same question: "If you are crowned Miss Muslimah USA, how would you use your title to change the stereotypes around Muslims in the USA?"

Halima Yasin Abdullahi, a Northland resident who won Miss Muslimah USA 2017 as a 20-year-old, emphasized the importance of education.

"The way to remedy ignorance is by educating others," Abdullahi said. "I felt that we needed to do our part as Muslim women to educate others about the hijab. It's one thing to complain about the ignorance of other people, but (it's) another thing to actually answer their questions and open up a dialogue."

For the first pageant, the winner received $5,000, much of which was funded by Shahid's sales from her clothing collection. That amount since has been lowered to $1,000, supported by contestant registration fees and ticket sales. Shahid said she hopes to offer a $5,000 scholarship in the future.

In addition to the prize money, for the past two years, Shahid has partnered with the modest wear brand, PFH (Perfect for Her), to give the titleholder and runner-up a VIP experience at the annual PFH Modest Fashion Convention in Los Angeles. Recipients typically are flown out for three days and attend dinners, receive gifts and walk in the convention's modest-wear fashion show; this year it will take place virtually in advance of the pageant.

"It puts on the pedestal a woman who is entirely clad and shows that you don't have to show your skin and compromise your values to be recognized as beautiful," said Hassanah El-Yacoubi, 31, founder of PFH. "It's really empowering to watch these women to be on stage and be able to pursue what would be a dream of theirs to win this type of competition, but doing it in a way that is true to their values and true to their belief systems."

Participating in the pageant helped Abdullahi feel more comfortable about her identity, she said.

"I should be proud of who I am," Abdullahi said. "I should embrace my skin tone; I should embrace my features; I should embrace my hijab. I've definitely gained a lot of confidence."

Those interested in participating should apply at missmuslimahusa.net.

Shahid said she hopes the pageant continues to be a means of lifting up Muslim women so young girls who dream of being in pageants like she did don't feel like they have to give up.

"I'm able to live my dream through these women," she said. "That there is everything for me."

mfenter@dispatch.com

@maya_with_a_y