Pondering whether transsexuals can participate at beauty pageants is a bit of a stretch - a mile wide stretch in fact - in many countries across the globe. That is because in many countries, natural born women still do not have the right to join beauty pageants or could face adverse consequences if they chose to do so.
Azra Akin is the first Muslim Miss World
While Azra Akin, a Muslim Turk, won the Miss World 2002 crown, many Muslim women are still legally barred from participating at beauty pageants. In Malaysia, only non-Muslim women are allowed to participate and while Tunisia and Egypt sent delegates at Big4 pageants at various times, such participation might be put into peril if Islamist elements in those countries will win the post Arab Spring elections. Bright spots are in Morocco which is sending a delegate at Miss World this year and Indonesia, the world's largest and arguably most tolerant Muslim nation, where Muslim women can join beauty pageants. But even in tolerant Indonesia, the extremist Muslims made some noise after protesting the participation of Artika Sari Devi in Miss Universe 2005.
The first recorded Muslim Miss USA - Rima Fakih
Perhaps the most controversial of all is Vida Samadzai who represented Afghanistan at Miss Earth 2003. She was condemned back home and Afghan officials called her participation as contrary to the culture of her country. Surprisingly, even with Muslim women winning important crowns such as Miss World 2002 and Miss USA 2010, Muslim women participating in beauty pageants even in progressive Britain are being threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. Miss England 2005 Hammasa Kohistani, England's first Muslim representative at Miss World, received death threats. Shanna Bukhari, a Miss Universe GB aspirant, also received similar threats.
Vida was condemned in Afghanistan for participating at Miss Earth
So as the debate rages on as to whether surgically-made women can participate at beauty contests, let us remember that many natural-born women are denied of such rights and even if such rights exists, many are being threatened. It is my personal opinion that Big4 beauty pageants are more than just about being physically a woman. It is about the essence of being a woman. And as Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen once said, being a woman, by itself, is a gift from God that all of us must appreciate. Thus, let us not fail to appreciate the value of a natural born women by skewing the definition of being a woman. And perhaps let us focus our energy in helping those natural-born women who desire to join pageants but are barred by their country's laws or are being threatened by fundamentalists who have skewed ideas about their religion.