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  • Muslim hopeful for Miss Universe Canada wants focus on her charity of choice, not what she wears during the bathing suit competition

    Posted by on April 18, 2010

    An Ottawa Muslim who is competing for the title of Miss Universe Canada says she is upset that earlier media reports have focused on her decision to wear a sari for the bathing suit competition and not the charity she wants to promote.

    Maria Al-Masani, who says she is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, is a practising Sufi, a sect of Islam that centres on the individual’s relationship with Allah. Sufism has, generally speaking, fewer restrictions than other branches of Islam.

    She said she was “amused” by the flap her candidacy had caused, but Al-Masani also admitted disappointment that articles had focused on her decision to wear a sari, rather than a bikini, for the swimsuit competition.

    “I’m not the first contestant to do that,” Al-Masani said. “I find it really absurd. I’m much chagrined that people are interested in everything but the main issues.”

    For Al-Masani, the big issue is her plan to use the pageant to generate money and awareness for fistula treatment hospitals in Somalia.

    Fistulas — which can develop after difficult or unattended labour, resulting in incontinence and, in many cases, subsequent social isolation — can be remedied with a series of surgeries.

    The Borama Fistula Hospital not only provides this, but, said Al-Masani, also offers “a microfinance program and a skills-training and literacy program … by the time (patients) leave the hospital, they have their own business and can stand on their own two feet.”

    More information about the hospital is available through madbakh-women-

    Born in Moscow, Al-Masani left for Yemen at age three. She moved to the United States in her mid-teens before settling in Ottawa at 19. Now 25, she is the director of an Ottawa public-relations firm.

    She will compete for a chance to represent Canada at the Miss Universe pageant when Miss Universe Canada takes place June 12-14 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

    Al-Masani is taking full advantage of what started as a joke.

    Friend and Trudeau photographer Jean-Marc Carisse was trying out a new camera “and then one of the photos turned out quite well,” Al-Masani said.

    A friend laughingly suggested she submit the photos to a beauty pageant

    “I said, ‘I will.’ I have a reputation for being adventurous — I love bungee-jumping, swimming with sharks, that sort of thing — so I said, ‘OK, why not?’”

    An essay accompanied her photo, touching on Kant, Derrida, Foucault and post-colonialist aesthetic, with a sprinkling of Edward Said, post-positivism and Simone de Beauvoir.

    Pageant organizers rewarded her impudent intellectualism with a spot as one of 62 women competing for the Canadian title.

    “I have a free platform,” she said. “I might as well use it.”

    As for her connection to the Prophet Mohammed, Al-Masani’s uncle has a certificate signed by an Islamic judge — a qadi — that attests to his Mohammedan lineage, she said. Qadis have certified generations of Mohammed’s descendants, she said. Her father was certified through her uncle’s credentials. Though she notes it’s a patriarchal line, Al-Masani feels no compunction about asserting her place in it.

    © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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