Old tensions between Muslims and Christians
in Nigeria flare up after a local newspaper wrote that Prophet
Mohammed would have made one of the Miss World contestants
his wife. A group of Muslims attacked the newspaper's offices
in Kaduna and fighting spread to the poorer suburbs of the
After nearly a half-century, the Miss World pageant was staged
for the first time without its architect, Eric Morley, in charge.
Morley died during preparations for Miss World 2000. Even though
Morley's wife had long ago taken over the day-to-day operations
of the contest, fans mourned the death of the man they knew
as "Mr. World."
But the new millennium also ushered in exciting firsts for
the Miss World competition. For the first time, viewers from
around the world could weigh in on their favorite contestants
by telephoning in votes. The competition also broke its record
for the number of international delegates competing for the
In 2001, Nigeria's Agbani Darego became the first black woman
from Africa to be crowned Miss World. When Darego proclaimed
in her acceptance speech, "Black is beautiful," she made pageant
history. Her crowning also ignited the worst year of trouble
for the Miss World contest.
After Darego won the title, Nigerian leaders grabbed at the chance to host the event in 2002. They banked on the promise
of the boost to tourism expected to accompany the pageant. They
hoped to improve Nigeria's image. But as soon as the country's
leaders won the bid for the 2002 Miss World contest, protests
A Muslim woman walks past a church
destroyed during riots in Kaduna, Nigeria, in November 2002.
Violence erupted between Christians and Muslims after a
newspaper article about the Miss World pageant suggested
that Prophet Mohammed might have chosen one of the contestants
as his wife. More than 200 people were killed in the riots,
with hundreds more injured and thousands displaced from
their homes. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Human rights advocates called for an international boycott
of the contest, protesting the treatment of women under sharia,
the code of law based on the Koran recently enacted in 12 of
Nigeria's northern states. Some Miss World contestants answered
the call to protest. Several countries' delegates dropped out
of the competition and rallied behind the campaign to save a
Muslim Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, sentenced to be stoned to
death for adultery. Amid growing international attention to
the case, the Nigerian government promised that Lawal's sentence
would not be carried out.
The Miss World contest would go on. But inside Nigeria, some
Muslims expressed their own discontent over the competition,
condemning it as an indecent spectacle. Contest organizers tried
to quiet the criticism by postponing the pageant, originally
scheduled during Ramadan, until after the Muslim holy month.
But after a young fashion writer in Nigeria wrote that Prophet
Mohammed probably would have chosen one of the Miss World contestants
as his wife, old tensions between Christians and Muslims exploded.
Riots erupted in the northern city of Kaduna, where two years
before, 2,000 people had died in religious clashes. The trouble
spread to Nigeria's capital, Abuja. The death toll exceeded
200 people, with hundreds of others reported injured.
With smoke from the riots still billowing over Kaduna, the
Miss World competition ditched its Nigerian venue. Pageant president
Julia Morley boarded a charter jet for London along with 90
contestants. The competition was held in Britain, where Miss
Turkey was crowned the 2002 winner.
Miss World beauty contestants board
a chartered flight for London after violence broke out in
Nigeria. As the women flee the country, smoke from the riots
still billows over the northern city of Kaduna. (FRONTLINE/World)
The restaging of the Miss World contest didn't spare its organizers
from further controversy. London's mayor blamed the contest
for bringing "tragedy and strife" to Africa. British author
and broadcaster Muriel Gray opposed the competition's relocation,
charging, "These girls will be wearing swimwear dripping with
blood." No British television channel agreed to broadcast the
But even with bloodshed linked to Miss World, the world's
oldest beauty pageant has persevered. In 2003, contestants will
pack their bags for the tropical shores of the island of Hainan
in South China. The ever-expanding Chinese market offers contest
sponsors the prospect of a huge audience and offers Miss World
organizers enormous potential for advertising revenue. But China
also is known for its poor human rights record, which promises
to draw the attention of activists from around the world. When
this year's beauty entrants face off for the Miss World crown,
protest against the competition is sure to strike again.
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