Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Organizers of a beauty pageant in Aceh defied opposition from a conservative Islamic group by staging the event on Friday evening.
Organizing committee member Poppy Amalia said claims that the Miss Aceh Fair 2011 pageant went against Islamic values were nonsense.
"It's not like Miss Universe, where contestants wear revealing clothing," she said. "Here, they're fully covered. And the contestants aren't sashaying [as claimed by pageant critics], they're just walking down a stage."
Poppy said the 31 contestants from universities across the province were judged mainly on their knowledge of local products and how well they could promote the province, with little focus on their appearance.
She also stressed that the winner, Lia Aditia, 19, from Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, would not go on to take part in any other national or international pageant.
The pageant was part of the ongoing Aceh Fair, a trade show to promote local products and tourism. The winner will go on to promote those products outside Aceh, as part of a government-sponsored effort to boost the local economy.
However, the group Rabithah Thaliban Aceh, which purports to represent Islamic primary school students, said the pageant went against the province's Shariah law.
Hasbi Al Bayuni, head of the group, said he only found out about the pageant the day before. "We immediately urged the organizers to call it off," he said.
"Islam forbids women from sashaying around in public, even if they're appropriately covered, and especially if there are men watching. What makes it worse is that this public display is being staged by the government.
"If the pageant's purpose is to improve tourism, there are many other Islamic activities to attract people to visit Aceh," he added. "We call on the government to put an end to activities like this that debase the dignity of Acehnese women."
Poppy said the group's accusations were flawed. "I'd really like to know what definition of Shariah law these detractors are using," she said.
"How is it that simply by trying to promote Acehnese products and places, we are accused of violating Shariah? As an Acehnese woman myself, I don't want the image of Aceh to be tainted [by conservatives' views]. I want to help Aceh build up an image that's good and positive," Poppy said.