Though there have been previous instances of Muslim women taking part in the qualifying rounds of the Miss England pageant, this year 20-year old-law student Sara Iftekhar became the first hijabi contestant to have been named a finalist. Though ultimately she lost out to Miss Newcastle, Alisha Cowie, Sara has broken down many barriers along the way to reaching the top 50 (out of 22,000 hopefuls). And in the process, she has picked up many new fans, her Instagram has over 11,000 followers.
A third generation British-Pakistani, Sara was born and brought up in a suburb in West Yorkshire where she lives with her parents Iftekhar, 51, a sales manager for a chemicals company, Sadia, 46, a full-time mother, and her siblings. Her faith and representation is important to her and she says that wearing the hijab was a personal choice. ” I didn’t do it to make any kind of point. I’m just a regular girl from an ordinary family who wanted to take part in a beauty contest as a bit of fun. I had no idea I’d be making history.”
She talks about the misconceptions sometimes associated with being Muslim. “Islam is not how it is portrayed, it’s about kindness,” she firmly states. “We are a forward-thinking family which holds important values to our religion and roots, but we are open-minded and up to date. We pray, and fast in the month of Ramadan. But being a Muslim isn’t just about praying, it’s about being kind, having good intentions, giving to charity.”
As for being a role model, Sara doesn’t shrug off the responsibility, saying that she found model Halima Aden walking down the catwalk in her hijab, inspirational for her. “I want to be a role model not only to Muslim women but to any woman who thinks she can’t take part in a beauty pageant because of her weight, height, religion or whatever,” she comments. “I’m here to say you can if you want to. You need to be a strong person who won’t be upset by what others say. But don’t let it hold you back.”