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As the first ever Muslim hijabi finalist in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, 20-year-old Nurul Shamsul says she is entering not for herself, but for all Muslim women, so that they can feel included in society and share in the ideals of beauty.

WHETHER you are for or against beauty pageants, Nurul Shamsul, Miss Universe New Zealand’s first ever Muslim Hijabi finalist, is using it as a platform to create waves of changes by redefining what it truly means to be beautiful.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the bright-eyed contestant back in February and I can vouch that Nurul is more than meets the eye. She describes herself as “optimistic, determined and sincere” and it certainly doesn’t take long for one to realise how true that description is.

The 20-year-old student from the University of Waikato, who is currently majoring in Psychology, made the headlines when it was announced that she is the very first hijab-wearing Malay-Indo Muslim to make it to the finals of Miss Universe New Zealand.

A hijab-wearing Muslim woman on the television screen or in a magazine is not ground-breaking news in a country like Malaysia, where it is not against our beauty ideals for a woman to dress modestly. In a country such as New Zealand, however, where Muslims make up less than two per cent of the population, it is not every day that you see a woman in a hijab looking completely at ease as she struts down the catwalk.

Like many other beauty pageants, Miss Universe can easily be perceived as a shallow and superficial competition that puts emphasis only on a woman’s outer beauty. Nurul however, disagrees with this notion, and said that she chose Miss Universe rather than other pageants due to its values.

“The pageant itself is more focused on one’s character and entrepreneurial skills to help a chosen charity in need — in New Zealand, the chosen charity organisation is called Variety.”

Miss Universe’s tagline is “Confidently beautiful” and you would expect nothing less from anyone who is brave enough to compete in an internationally-renowned beauty pageant. It is nerve-racking to expose one’s entire self to criticism, what’s more if it is in front of a worldwide audience, but I have never met anyone more at ease in her own skin until I met Nurul.

At 20, most young women are only just beginning to build their self-esteem and accept how they look, but the more you speak to Nurul, the more you realise that the young lass has her confidence rooted in something which isn’t skin deep — she sources her confidence from a reservoir of self-compassion and wisdom, something you would never expect such a young woman to have so much of.

Nurul distinguishes between having an ego and loving yourself. She explained that self-love is about being kind and compassionate towards yourself while having an ego is thinking highly of yourself, making one believe his is always in a competition with others.

Responding gracefully to negative comments or criticism is not an easy task; it is an art that takes time to master and many people live till old age never mastering that skill. Naturally, Nurul has encountered some disapproval in her journey as a Miss Universe contestant, but, claims that knowing her worth has protected her from getting hurt.

In response to comments from Netizens saying she looks “biase je” (just normal), Nurul was not offended, but, agreed with the statements. “This is so true. I am a normal human being and as human beings, we have our own perspectives, we have our own hopes and dreams and intentions.”

She added: “Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t enter the competition to get approval from others or to flaunt my beauty. Miss Universe is so much more than a beauty pageant. If it was only a beauty pageant then I would not have entered it as it would be against my own values and morals.”

It is not surprising Nurul articulates her thoughts so poetically — when she first came to New Zealand at the age of five, she learnt English through poetry and nursery rhymes and this has influenced her love for reading and writing poetry.

Fun fact: Nurul is a published poet and her poetry has been published in the 50th edition of New Zealand Poetry, the country’s longest-running poetry magazine.

In a poem about her identity as a Muslim woman, titled, “The Liberation of Wine”, she wrote:

“Don’t look at me. Look into me;

For I am a girl

Liberated

With her silk pashmina,

Wine red scarf.”

The wine-red scarf is part of Nurul’s staple “look” and her aptly named blog www.thegirlinthewineredscarf.com, in which she focuses on mental health, self-development, travel, and fashion.

Her participation in the pageant is not for mere flattery — on the contrary, her participation is for a purpose much bigger than herself.

“I’m honestly not doing this for myself, I’m doing this for all Muslim women, so that they can feel included in society and share in the ideals of beauty. Together, I want us to pioneer a new meaning and culture of beauty where it is more than skin deep. I’ve broken this boundary by being a finalist as I want society to progress towards more inclusive standards of beauty.”

“Me being in the finals for Miss Universe New Zealand is so much bigger than myself. It’s about breaking boundaries and stereotypes, it’s about redefining beauty and helping girls grow and flourish into the amazing women that they can be.”

To all future contestants of Miss Universe, Nurul advises them to seriously reflect on their intentions and only compete if they believe they can contribute positively to the universe.


A freelance writer, and a blogger at www.dearsarina.com., Raja Sarina Iskandar is a millennial trying to make a difference, starting with herself

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