Saudi Arabia's morality police bust Mecca beauty pageant

Authorities are investigating a group of women who allegedly promoted a Miss Makkah pageant

Saudi woman applies makeup on a model
(Image credit: AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty)

A group of Saudi Arabian women are under investigation for allegedly attempting to hold a beauty pageant in the holy city of Mecca.

The women were reportedly promoting the "Miss Makkah" pageant using leaflets and social media, inviting "women of any colour aged between 17 and 27 years" to take part free of charge.

The winner could expect a gold ring, while runners up would be awarded "valuable gifts", the advert is said to have promised.

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The pageant was due to take place in one of Mecca's banquet hall palaces over a period of four consecutive days, starting on Sunday, reports the Saudi Gazette.

But authorities in Saudi Arabia have put a stop to the plans, citing Sharia law.

The Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, known as the Haia or morality police, has handed the Mecca governorate a report that includes invitations sent out to guests and participants, as well as several complaints from members of the public.

The Haia was set up in 1926 to monitor public behaviour in Saudi Arabia, which follows the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. Agents patrol streets and other public spaces to enforce the kingdom's strict dress code and 30-minute store closures during prayers.

One source told Arab News that a banquet hall official had confirmed that some businesswomen reserved the hall and paid for the event but that authorities had instructed them to cancel it.

Beauty pageants have caused controversy in other Muslim countries, including Indonesia, where hardline Islamic groups protested against the Miss World beauty contest last year.

Saudi Arabia has allowed one beauty pageant in the past: the quest for "Miss Beautiful Morals".

Founder Khadra al-Mubarak said the idea was to test the contestants' commitment to Islamic morals, particularly respect for their parents, and provided an alternative to other beauty contests "that only take into account a woman's body and looks".

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