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Thu, Oct 15, 2009
The Straits Times
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Aceh beauty queen slammed
by Salim Osman

JAKARTA: She represented Aceh in Indonesia's high-profile beauty pageant, and beat 37 others to win the coveted Miss Indonesia Universe crown last Friday.

But instead of praise, Miss Qori Sandioriva, 18, who is part Acehnese, has been denounced by clerics and community leaders in Indonesia's strict Islamic province for bringing shame to Aceh.

The furore centres on her taking part in the contest without wearing a jilbab, the Islamic headdress.

The head of the Aceh Customs and Traditions Council, Mr Usman Budiman, said the teenage beauty should not claim to represent the province if she breaks Aceh's tradition and syariah law.

Aceh's Daya Ulema Association secretary-general Teungku Faisal Ali added: 'We are not bothered by the Puteri Indonesia contest. What bothers us is why she represented Aceh, but did not reflect the values and culture of the Acehnese people, who are well known for their Islamic faith.'

Mr Mursyid Yahya, head of the Islamic syariah office in Aceh's Lhokseumawe district, said it was customary for Acehnese Muslim women to dress modestly, in full-length dresses with long sleeves and a jilbab, or headscarf that covers the hair, leaving only the face exposed.

Miss Qori, who was born in Jakarta but has an Acehnese mother and a Sundanese father, will represent Indonesia in next year's Miss Universe pageant, where she will be expected to wear a bikini in one of the contest segments - an appearance that is sure to stir up more controversy.

Miss Qori claimed that she had the blessings of the Aceh provincial government to represent the province in the pageant.

But Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar disputed her claim yesterday, saying: 'I will meet her personally to query why she took part in the contest.'

Aceh province has imposed partial syariah law since 2001 and expanded it further under the 2006 autonomy law, which, among other things, requires women to cover up in public. Beauty contests are taboo in Aceh.

Beauty pageants have always been a sensitive issue in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, because of the presence of a small but vocal minority comprising hardline Muslim groups that object to such contests.

During his 32-year reign, former president Suharto banned women from participating in the contests because he felt they were not compatible with Indonesia's culture.

Ms Alya Rohali, now a popular television presenter, defied the ban in 1996 and competed in a Miss Universe contest in Las Vegas - only to return home to threats and media attacks.

But after the fall of Mr Suharto in 1998, local beauty contests, including the prestigious Puteri Indonesia pageant, have been allowed as long as participants refrain from parading in bikinis or swimwear that show off too much flesh.

However, problems arise each time at international beauty contests, when the contestant from Indonesia - Muslim or not - decides to don a bikini instead of opting for a less revealing one-piece swimsuit.

Analyst Syafii Anwar, executive director of the Jakarta-based International Centre for Islam and Pluralism, told The Straits Times that many in the country were simply against all Indonesian women appearing in public in revealing swimwear.

He added: 'There are other issues that Acehnese leaders should be concerned about, other than beauty contests. They should start thinking of how to eradicate poverty in the province, and improve the lot of the Acehnese.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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