Pin It

a hijabi can…win a beauty pageant

December 15, 2012No Comments

Beauty queen glad to honor her faith

Roanoke’s Anisah Rasheed represents North Carolina A&T State University.

By Pamela J. Podger

Excited and jittery, Anisah Rasheed of Roanoke pondered a fashion dilemma that few beauty queens have faced before: Matching her coronation gown with her hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women.

Rasheed, 20, was crowned Miss A&T for 2005-06 on Thursday night in a sparkling fishtail gown — with a tiara glittering over her golden hijab — during homecoming ceremonies at North Carolina A&T State University.

University officials say Rasheed is the first Muslim selected as campus queen by the 11,000-student school. She’ll be featured, along with others from black colleges and universities, in an upcoming issue of Ebony magazine.

Rasheed was elected at a forum in April, competing against eight women in the categories of talent, formalwear, speech and debate. She said no one has made an issue of her faith or covering her body with traditional garb.

“Once you learn to accept yourself, it washes away everyone’s opinions about you and lets you do what you will in life,” she said. “I’m glad I’m a role model for Muslims, but it is for everyone who faces challenges. It is about being confident.”

Photo of Rasheed
Courtesy North Carolina A&T University
Anisah Rasheed wears her homecoming tiara on top of her hijab — a headscarf worn by Muslim women.

Worldwide, there are just a handful of Muslim women who’ve won beauty pageants. Some conservative Muslims say the contests defy Islam’s edict requiring public modesty in women. Other Muslims frown on men or women flaunting their sexuality and say exposing the body is degrading. Still others oppose pageants on feminist grounds, considering the contests as throwbacks that objectify women.

In September, a Muslim leader in Liverpool, England, urged an Iraqi woman to withdraw from the Miss England competition. In the past few years, there has been friction over Muslim contestants in beauty pageants in Pakistan, Canada and elsewhere. In 2002, Nigerian crowds rioted after an English newspaper made a disparaging remark about Islam’s prophet during the Miss World competition.

But Leila Ahmed, a Harvard University professor of women’s studies in religion, said she doesn’t see anything controversial.

“On the face of it, I don’t know why her faith should interfere with her. There is nothing she is doing that is degrading. Why do women who wear the hijab also put on makeup and tight jeans?” she said. “It is true that Muslim requires modesty and you shouldn’t be flaunting yourself sexually. But isn’t that also true for people who are of Christian and Jewish faiths?”

Rasheed is at peace with her decision. Occasionally, Rasheed said she felt like “an outcast” as a Muslim and at times didn’t wear her hijab because of “peer pressure” at her junior and senior high schools. At university, she embraced her religion, saying people treated her with respect and honored differences.

“At the end of the day, it is between me and God,” said Rasheed, a senior marketing major. “I know I’m doing what God intends me to do.”

Her father, Correlli Rasheed, who is the imam — or leader — at Masjid An-nur mosque in Roanoke, said he is proud of his daughter, who has a long list of successes as a student, athlete and young entrepreneur. She graduated from William Fleming High School in 2003.

“It is just a testament to her leadership and her desire to serve people and others,” he said of his daughter’s latest achievement. “One of the things I’ve always admired about her — even with all her accomplishments — is she is really one of the most humble people I know.”

Even if Miss A&T was a Muslim who wasn’t his daughter, he said, “My thoughts would be about the individual and about their faith: Is this something that could cause them to go farther away from their faith or is this another experience in life?”

With the composure of an older woman, Rasheed said the Miss A&T competition is about poise, intellect and quick wits. She said there wasn’t a swimsuit category at her school competition nor was there one at last weekend’s National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Queen Competition in Atlanta.

“Here, [on campus] it is an election and a forum to see what you have to offer, and the students decide if you have the brains to win,” Rasheed said. “One thing about the pageant in Atlanta — it is not about your outer beauty, but is about your intellect.”

Rasheed received a budget for her coronation and will get free room and board and a monthly stipend during her reign.

Her mother, Valerie Rasheed-Dale, was thrilled for her daughter.

“This is phenomenal. She’s a very focused person. She told me in her freshman year that she wanted to be Miss A&T,” she said. “I know when she sets her mind to something, she puts her whole heart into it. To raise a child, it takes a village, and Roanoke, Virginia, has been her village.”




Leave a Reply