This Law Student Beauty Queen Will Be the First to Compete in Miss England Finals Wearing a Hijab
And she’s fundraising to support Beauty With a Purpose’s work with children all over the world.
A 20-year-old law student from Huddersfield is about to become the first beauty queen to compete in the Miss England finals while wearing a hijab.
Sara Iftekhar, who studies at the University of Huddersfield, will be walking down the catwalk at the finals this week, at Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire.
'Sara Iftekhar’s place in the Miss England final is a reminder that hijab-wearing Muslim women deserve to take up space' https://t.co/1IcRucUDt9— The Independent (@Independent) September 3, 2018
“Wowwwwww!!! I can’t even comprehend how amazing it felt for my name to be announced as a finalist in the Miss England Finals 2018! Alhamdullilah,” she wrote on Instagram in July, as she shared a selfie with her trophy after being crowned Miss Huddersfield 2018.
“It was an incredible experience and something which I will never be able to forget,” she said. “The opportunities which I have received with being a finalist in Miss England are opportunities which I would never have thought of and will forever be grateful for.”
“My Miss England journey has been so, so amazing and an experience which I never thought I would be part of,” she added. “I still feel honoured to be one of the amazing girls in the top 50 chosen out of 22,000 women. I just can’t wait too see where this journey takes me.”
And if she wins, she’ll head to Sanya in China to represent England at Miss World, according to MailOnline.
Iftekhar has also been using her platform to help raise money for Beauty With a Purpose — an organisation that has been supporting children around the world for nearly 50 years.
Its work so far has included everything from teams working to support children with cleft palates in South America, Sri Lanka, and Russia, to supporting displaced children in Vietnam, and children impacted by natural disasters.
“They have also worked alongside Nelson Mandela and Jackie Chan in order to increase the financial aid of those affected by the Asian tsunami,” Iftekhar added on her GoFundMe page.
“I participated in Miss 2018 in order to show that beauty doesn’t have a definition, everyone is beautiful in their own ways, regardless of their weight, race, colour, or shape,” she said.
Sara Iftekhar from #Huddersfield has raised thousands for children’s charities and was selected as a finalist from 22000 entrants. She looks like an Asian Audrey Hepburn. Good luck Sara, be proud to represent our great country as a British Muslim. https://t.co/qOPKgKABwm— Aafaq (@iamaafaq) September 3, 2018
It sparked a string of complaints, and prompted the anti-Islamophobia organisation Tell Mama to warn about a risk of increased violence and abuse against women wearing headscarves.
In the wake of the comments, Baroness Warsi — a lawyer, politician, and member of the House of Lords, who was co-chair of the Conservative party from 2010-2012 — wrote in the Guardian that what was really being highlighted is that “Muslim women are simply political fodder, their lives a convenient battleground on which to stake out a leadership bid.”
According to the women’s and equalities committee, Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British society.
While the reasons behind this are “varied and complex,” according to the committee’s 2016 report, it highlighted stereotyping, discrimination, and Islamophobia, alongside pressure from traditional families, and lack of tailored advice around higher education choices, and insufficient role models across education and employment.
But Iftekhar's place in the Miss England finals is a great step in changing this.
According to writer Iqra Chouhdry in the Independent: "Muslim women who wear the hijab are so often othered because we don't conform to conventional ideas about beauty — society tells us that be choosing to cover our hair, or dressing in a modest way, we've given up our right to be considered beautiful."
"This is why Iftekhar's decision to compete for the Miss England title this year is so important," she adds. "Here is a wonderfully vibrant, confident young woman who is proving, on a huge platform, that beauty comes in many forms, that Muslim women in hijabs can be beautiful, and that we can own our beauty, alongside other definitions of beauty."
Women like Iftekhar can play a vital part in raising the public profile of women who choose to wear headscarves, acting as a positive role model to empower other girls and women in Britain, and countering efforts to stereotype and discriminate that too often occur in the British media.