Burqa Wins Beauty Contest

Saudi beauty queen Aya Ali al-Mulla trounced 274 rivals to win a crown, jewellery, cash and a trip to Malaysia, and all without showing her face. With her face and body completely covered by the black head-to-toe burqa mandatory in the conservative Muslim kingdom, 18-year-old Mulla was named "Miss Moral Beauty" on Friday. There was none of the swimsuit and evening gown competitions and heavy media coverage of beauty pageants elsewhere when the contest was decided in the eastern city of Safwa. Instead, the winner and the two runner-up princesses had to undergo a three-month test of their dutifulness to their parents and family, and their service to society. This included a battery of personal, cultural, social and psychological tests. Miss Moral Beauty, which was inaugurated last year, is Saudi Arabia's first pageant for women. The only pageants being held earlier were for goats, sheep, camels and other animals, aimed at encouraging livestock breeding. Mulla and other contestants spent nearly 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 Prophet Muhammad to underline that respect for parents is among the faith's most important tenets. The contestants also spent a day at a country house with their mothers, where they were observed by female judges and graded on how they interacted with them. It was unclear exactly what Mulla did to pip her rivals in the huge field, but Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported that the high school graduate had good grades and hopes to go into medicine. She raked in a 5,000-riyal ($1,333) prize, a pearl necklace, diamond watch, diamond necklace, and a free ticket to Malaysia with her win. Beauty contests focused on physical beauty are non-existent in segregated Saudi Arabia, where women can not mix with unrelated men, and must appear in public completely covered -- even in photographs. "The real winner in this competition is the society. The winners represent the culture of the society and its high Islamic morals," one of the organisers told Al-Watan.