Forget evening dresses and bikinis. The girls who participate in a ten-week-long beauty contest in Saudi-Arabia are disguised in black burqas. And the winner will be the woman with 'the greatest 'inner beauty'.
The burqas are very controversial among health authorities in Western countries, who are increasingly having to deal with the often very serious medical consequences suffered by the growing number of Islamic women who are now migrating into Western Europe, but who are also still being coerced into wearing the burqa mainly through family pressure and imams at their local mosques.
Medical experts in the West warn that Islamic women wearing these all-encompassing burqas in the northerly climates, which have far less sunshine, suffer much more from osteoporosis due to a lack of Vitamin D.
The garments don't let through enough sunshine. And their newborn babies are prone to getting more seizures for the same reason.
"In Ireland, which is experiencing a large influx of muslim immigrants at the moment, women wearing the burqa, doctors are warning, 'are at increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth because of vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight. "And babies born to women with vitamin D deficiency are also more prone to seizures in their first week of life," according to Dr Miriam Casey, expert in Medicine for the Elderly at the Osteoporosis Unit in St James’s hospital in Dublin. The burqa - an all-enveloping outer garment, does not allow enough sunlight through to give women sufficient vitamin D, she warns.
However it's not known whether the young women who are participating in the beauty contest in Saudi Arabia, might be suffering from rickets -- the condition caused by vitamin-D deficiencies.
Inner beauty contest does not consider health issues of the Burqa
Map of Saudi Arabia
However, the 'inner-beauty' contest in Saudi Arabia does not consider their physical health, as opposed to a recent incident during a beauty contest in the West, when a contestant failed to win the beauty title because she looked very 'anorexic'.
What makes the situation doubly tragic is that women who are constantly being denied access to direct sunlight, can be cured very easily: basically, treatment against rickets involves more exposure to sunshine, and increased dietary intake of HGH, phosphates. Especially important would be exposure to ultraviolet B light (sunshine when the sun is highest in the sky), cod liver oil, halibut-liver oil, and viosterol are all sources of vitamin D. Basically, if they didn't have the burqa, they would be healthy.
A sufficient amount of ultraviolet B light in sunlight each day and adequate supplies of calcium and phosphorus in the diet can prevent rickets. Also important: darker-skinned people need to be exposed longer to its ultraviolet rays. The replacement of vitamin D has been proven to cure rickets using these methods of ultraviolet light therapy and medicine. see
The contest starts on Saturday in the Islamic country and will be judged by a female jury for a whopping ten weeks. The entire country is ruled by Sharia law. Women are not allowed to drive cars, have their own bank accounts, cannot go shopping without male relatives, and are allowed outdoors only when enveloped in the familiar, thick black shrouds.
Two hundred girls have signed up for the contest, aged from fifteen to 25 years.Associated Press interviewed one hopeful, Sukaina al-Zayer, writing: "She covers her face and body in black robes and an Islamic veil, so no one can tell what she looks like. She also admits she's a little on the plump side."
But at Saudi Arabia's only beauty pageant, the judges don't care about a perfect figure or face - nor about their health.
What they're looking for in the quest for "Miss Beautiful Morals" is the contestant who shows the most devotion and respect for her parents.
"The idea of the pageant is to measure the contestants' commitment to Islamic morals... It's an alternative to the calls for decadence in the other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks," said pageant founder Khadra al-Mubarak."The winner won't necessarily be pretty," she added. "We care about the beauty of the soul and the morals."
So after the pageant opens Saturday, the nearly 200 contestants will spend the next 10 weeks attending classes and being quizzed on themes including "Discovering your inner strength," "The making of leaders" and "Mom, paradise is at your feet" — a saying attributed to Islam's Prophet Muhammad to underline that respect for parents is among the faith's most important tenets.
Pageant hopefuls will also spend a day at a country house with their mothers, where they will be observed by female judges and graded on how they interact with their mothers, al-Mubarak said. Since the pageant is not televised and no men are involved, contestants can take off the veils and black figure-hiding abayas they always wear in public.
The Miss Beautiful Morals pageant is the latest example of conservative Muslims co-opting Western-style formats to spread their message in the face of the onslaught of foreign influences flooding the region through the Internet and satellite television.
A newly created Islamic music channel owned by an Egyptian businessman aired an "American Idol"-style contest for religious-themed singers this month. And several Muslim preachers have become talk-show celebrities by adopting an informal, almost Oprah-like television style, in contrast to the solemn clerics who traditionally appear in the media.
Now in its second year, the number of pageant contestants has nearly tripled from the 75 women who participated in 2008. The pageant is open to women between 15 and 25. The winner and two runners up will be announced in July, with the queen taking home $2,600 and other prizes. The runners up get $1,300 each.
Last year's winner, Zahra al-Shurafa, said the contest gives an incentive to young women and teens to show more consideration toward their parents."I tell this year's contestants that winning is not important," said al-Shurafa, a 21-year-old English major. "What is important is obeying your parents."
There are few beauty pageants in the largely conservative Arab world.
The most dazzling one, for years, has been in Lebanon, the region's most liberal country, where contestants appear on TV in one-piece swimsuits and glamorous evening gowns and answer questions that test their confidence and general knowledge.
There are no such displays in ultra-strict Saudi Arabia, where until Miss Beautiful Morals was inaugurated last year, the only pageants were for goats, sheep, camels and other animals, aimed at encouraging livestock breeding.
This year's event kicks off Saturday in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim town of Safwa, and mostly draws local Shi'ite contestants. But it's open to anyone — and this year, 15 Sunni Muslims are also participating, al-Mubarak said. "This is a beautiful thing," she added.
There have long been tensions between the two sects in the kingdom. Hard-liners in the Sunni majority consider Shi'ites infidels, and the Shi'ites often complain of discrimination and greater levels of poverty.
Al-Zayer, a 24-year-old international management student, said she signed up because she is the "spitting image" of her mother. "I'm proud of my devotion to my parents," she said.
What does she think of Lebanon's beauty contests?"It's a matter of cultural differences," she said. "In Saudi Arabia, they are Islamically unacceptable."
The decision will fall in July. The woman with the most beautiful soul will win 2,600 dollars.It's not known whether she'd be allowed to keep it, though.