"I am a Muslim feminist. Many people think those two words are incompatible, but I am here to prove you wrong." So said 22-year-old Zeytuna Mohamed after taking the stage last July at the Miss Muslimah USA pageant in Dearborn, Michigan—a little-known event that casts a fresh light on young Muslim-American women. The contest has been covering familiar pageant territory with a Muslim twist since 2017, the New York Times reports. There's a talent portion, for example, but participants read from the Quran; contestants can wear a swimsuit, but only if it's a burkini (which covers the entire body); there's a catwalk, but music is Muslim hip-hop. "She represents peace and got her own voice," one song goes, "she's not forced to wear it cos' she made her own choice."
Founder Maghrib Shahid, a 39-year-old from Ohio, stresses the importance of fighting anti-Muslim discrimination. "We're visibly Muslim, it's us who will be attacked first," she says. "I wanted to give Muslim women the opportunity to change misconceptions about themselves." The contest has also endured typical pageant shakeups, with two former winners losing their crowns. Rahma Mohamed, the 2019 winner, "did not follow the organization's code of conduct" and had to be replaced, Arab American News reported. And now, of course, there's no pageant because of the coronavirus, but Shahid seems optimistic: "It took time for them to build," she says of Miss USA. "If you support Miss Muslimah, in the next 10 years we'll also have that great momentum." (Read more Muslims stories.)