A 20-year-old law student is set to be the first Miss England finalist to wear a hijab while competing for the coveted beauty crown.
Sara Iftekhar, from West Yorkshire, already holds the title of Miss Huddersfield 2018 but is hoping to take the top national spot at the finals in Nottinghamshire on Tuesday.
While previous Muslim competitors have chosen to wear headscarves, Iftekhar will be the first finalist to do so.
Sharing a selfie with a trophy back in July, she wrote of her struggle with comprehending ‘how amazing” she felt to have gone so far in the pageant.
“It was an incredible experience and something which I will never be able to forget. The opportunities which I have received with being a finalist in Miss England are opportunities which I would never have thought of and will forever be grateful for,” she wrote.
Whoever takes the Miss England crown will go on to compete at the Miss World competition in Sanya, a city on China’s Hainan Island in December.
As part of the competition, the women are encouraged to use their platform to raise money for “Beauty with a Purpose” – a Miss World organization that supports disadvantaged children around the world.
Iftekar wrote on her crowdfunding page that her motivation for participating in the pageant was “to show that beauty doesn’t have a definition, everyone is beautiful in their own ways, regardless of their weight, race, colour or shape.”
The aspiring lawyer, who has had a keen interest in fashion and beauty from a young age, started her own clothing business at just 16 years old.
Throughout the competition, she has been creating “eco dresses” – taking old materials like paper boxes and plastic garbage bags and incorporating them into her outfits – and documenting the upcycling process on her Instagram account.
In July, model Halima Aden became the first hijabi woman to feature on the cover of British Vogue.
A former pageant contestant herself, Aden told CNN that taking part while also wearing a headscarf was an opportunity to dispel the narrative that Muslim women are oppressed.
“There are so many Muslim women that feel like they don’t fit society’s standard of beauty,” she said in June. “I just wanted to tell them it’s OK to be different, being different is beautiful, too.”
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According to UK’s Women and Equalities Committee, Muslim women “suffer the greatest economic disadvantages of any group” in British society for reasons that include discrimination, Islamophobia and stereotyping.
Meanwhile, the debate around women in headscarves was reignited in the UK in August after former foreign secretary Boris Johnson likened Muslim women wearing veils to “letterboxes” and bank robbers.
Johnson’s comments sparked numerous complaints and he is facing an internal party investigation into potential breaches of his Conservative Party’s code of conduct.