Why Are Indonesian Muslims Protesting ‘Miss World’ Contest?

JAKARTA, Indonesia (TheBlaze/AP) — Indonesian Muslims from the hardline Islamic group Hibzbut Tahrir are outraged over the Miss World pageant scheduled to take place this weekend in Bali, and they aren’t being quiet about it.

In Jakarta on Thursday, about 1,000 people protested outside the building housing the local organizer of the contest, chanting “Allah Akbar” or “God is great.”  The demonstrators, predominantly women who were clothed so only their faces and hands were visible, also waved banners reading “Reject Miss World” and “Miss World Culture Liberalisation Campaign.”

Muslim women chant slogans during a protest demanding the cancellation of the Miss World pageant that will be held in Bali and Sentul, West Java later this month, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Protests also were held in the Sumatran cities of Medan and Pekanbaru, and in Makassar in Sulawesi. Protesters gathered at local council buildings and called on the government to revoke the permit for the contest, in case the pressure on the contest itself failed to persuade it to hold the event elsewhere.

But the local organizer, MNC media group, said it was not possible to cancel the contest or move the location, and that the government has pledged to provide security for the event.

“I think there is a misunderstanding,” Hary Tanoesoedibjo, head of MNC, told reporters Wednesday in Bali. “I assure that there will be nothing that runs against our culture. I would not accept if there was a bikini show.”

The chairwoman of the Miss World Organization, Julia Morley, earlier confirmed that none of the contestants would wear a bikini.

Indonesian female Muslim protesters march during a demonstration against the Miss World beauty pageant contest due to start this week end on the Island of Bali, in Jakarta on September 5, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The competition will be held partly on Bali, with the final round set for Sept. 28 on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“The contest will not be different from other beauty pageants in Indonesia,” said Budi Rusmanto, an organizer in Jakarta. “The only difference is the participants.”

Rejection of the event has come not only from hard-line groups, but also from the country’s most influential clerics’ group, the Indonesia Ulema Council, whose fatwas, or edicts, are followed by many devoted Muslims.

Last week, the council urged the government to cancel the contest, saying the exposure of skin by women in such a competition violates Islamic teachings, even after organizers agreed to cut the bikini competition and instead outfit contestants in more conservative sarongs.

Indonesian Muslim protesters hold placards during a protest against the Miss World beauty pageant contest due to start this week end on the Island of Bali, outside their main sponsor office, MNCTV in Jakarta on September 5, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 240 million people and the world’s most populous Islamic country, are moderate, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and Bandung, the West Java capital, while on Tuesday hundreds rallied in Jakarta.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group with a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups, has pledged to disrupt the event if it is held in Indonesia.

Bali police spokesman Col. Hariadi said there have been no signs of security threats and that police are guarding all airports and seaports on the tourist island.

“Security around locations set for activities of the event and the participants as well will be optimized,” said Hariadi, who uses one name.

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