It was an American beauty pageant first, the ascension of a Muslim-American woman to victory in the Miss USA pageant. Rima Fakih’s win has garnered mixed reaction from Arab and Muslim communities around the world.
Many see Fakih’s victory as representing progress for American Muslims, indicative of their growing integration into mainstream American culture. Omar Saceribey of The Huffington Post notes, “Fakih is being hailed as a symbol of Muslim-American integration who shatters the stereotype of the cloaked and dour Muslim woman.” But others are critical. “A Muslim woman can be beautiful, but walking around in front of millions of viewers in a swimsuit, is not in sync with Islamic values,” says Kiran Ansari of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
Fakih is thus rendered a walking contradiction. To some, she symbolizes a diverse American society and conformity to its homogenous standards. One may wonder if a Muslim-American woman with a hijab would make it past the preliminaries in any pageant? To others, she represents the ability for American Muslims to achieve the “American Dream.” At the same time, others note that her victory has been confronted with American intolerance.
Pointing to her Lebanese heritage, some have commented that Fakih is a spy for Hezbollah-an Islamic extremist group based in Lebanon. Tony Allen-Mills of The Australian writes: “Debbie Schlussel, a right-wing blogger, branded Ms. Fakih ‘Miss Hezbollah’ and suggested she was a kind of Trojan horse aimed at improving the image of militant Shi’ites.”
Comments like those from Schlussel have inspired many to defend Fakih’s ethnic roots, while also considering the sexist implications of beauty pageants. Many believe that pageants have a long history of exploiting young women and promoting dangerous, one-dimensional views of womanhood.
Fatemah Fakhraie, contributing editor at Altmuslimah.com writes, “Beauty pageants=gross. There’s not just a history of sexism, but also of exploitation, exclusion, and racism within American beauty pageants. But I’m incredibly excited that there is another female face of Islam in the mainstream media. She doesn’t look like the war-torn women of Iraq or Afghanistan-representation in the media that Americans are used to seeing.”
Yet there are those who believe people are investing way too much meaning in Fakih’s victory. “Why can’t we get this excited over [Arab-American] women such as Diane Rehm, the exceptional and adored public radio host that has over two million listeners across the country,” asks writer Nour Akkad. After all, as some point out, the Miss USA pageant is based on shallow qualities in which “politics and religion should take a backseat to stunning evening dresses.”
What do you think of Rima Fakih’s victory? How do you interpret it? Does she represent Islam’s integration into mainstream American culture, or does she symbolize American diversity or a single conception of beauty? How would you reconcile the two? Are there ways to explain the backlash other than pure intolerance? If so, can you name potential alternate motivations? How do you respond to those who view beauty pageants as insignificant venues for assessing Muslim’s integration into American culture?
- Does Rima Fakih Represent Muslims in America?
- Beauty queen Rima Fakih branded Miss Hezbollah
- In Defense of an Arab-American Beauty Queen
- There’s No Place for Racism in Miss USA
- Muslim Miss USA: Progress or Immodesty
- Miss USA Bigot Backlash Begins Now
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