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Maria Mehmood, a 20-year-old model is competing to become the first Hijabi Miss England. She ended in top 10 in Miss Birmingham before finally being crowned the first runner-up ensuring her place in semi-finals.
The young Hijab model plans to wear Burkini in swimwear round.
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Maira Mehmood is a student of Psychology and aspires to work as a social worker. She says her friends and family are supporting her but she is mindful of backlash from few conservatives in her community.
Mehmood says through her participation in the beauty pageant she wishes to alter the negative stereotypes associated with Muslims in Britain.
‘Muslims are associated with negative things like terrorism. I’m determined to do my bit to challenge those views,’ Maria said to the UK-based publishing site.
‘I wear a hijab, you are really wearing your Muslim identity,’ she said.
‘In today’s society, we [Muslims] are not exactly loved because what is happening in the world.’
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Commenting on the misconceptions about wearing a hijab, she added, ‘Everyone sees a woman covered and think I’m oppressed, but am I not free if I choose to cover my skin?’
“It’s pretty rare for a Muslim woman to be in a beauty pageant but there’s nothing to stop us entering. I entered Miss Birmingham and the organizers were delighted to have a hijab-wearing Muslim in the competition. They fast-tracked me through to the final where I competed against 30 girls and came second. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“When I came runner-up, they were delighted for me. I’ve got three brothers and they’ve also been so good. Most people have been supportive. There have been a few negative comments and I’m fully expecting some criticism from old-timers and conservatives. But what I’m doing is empowering for Muslim women. I’m anticipating most people will back me,” she added.
“Obviously, I’m not going to parade on stage in a bikini as that is going against my religion and beliefs. I’ll wear a burkini.”
The actress said she was nervous at first while competing in Miss Birmingham since her skin color and hijab made her felt odd-one-out. Her performance impressed judges and she garnered appreciation from her fellow contestants and judges that boosted her confidence.
Growing up, I used to get bullied told that I was so ugly I should commit suicide,’ she said. ‘I wanted to show that it didn’t have to be this way.’
‘On the day, I was very nervous. I was the only hijab-wearing person there. You know when you’re nervous anyway, and then you become even more nervous because you don’t see anyone else who looks like you?’
‘You need to be, confident, well-spoken and be motivated to spread a good message,’ she said.
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She continued: ‘Afterwards I had the judges coming up to me telling me how much they loved what I was representing. That really, really felt good.
‘An Indian girl came up to me afterward and said: “As an Asian woman I would never, never consider doing this but now seeing you
I definitely will pursue it.You shouldn’t let your skin color and your race hold you back.’
Maria Mehmood is now looking to the semi-finals that will be held in Newark, Nottinghamshire in July.