Ravish Zahid, the first-ever Catholic Mrs. Pakistan World, has a unique opportunity to use her status in a constructive way.
It was an honor and a surprise visiting Ravish Zahid, the first-ever Catholic Mrs. Pakistan World. Television journalists and camera crews were knocking on the door as I interviewed the 26-year-old beauty queen at her parents' house in Bahar Colony, a dusty Christian neighborhood of Lahore. The official calendar of Lahore Archdiocese, bearing photos of Pope Francis and Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, hung on the wall of the small TV lounge.
I was lucky to get 45 minutes with Ravish thanks to my long friendship with her father Zahid Nazir, chairman of Pakistan Minorities' Unity Council and a human rights activist.
The 57-year-old shared a major concern regarding the price he pays for the stardom of his celebrity daughter. “We are getting calls from news channels around the city but received no call from the Church. Traveling is a major concern as my daughter is based in the US. Given the current circumstances, she cannot visit the channels alone and I do not carry a weapon,” he told me.
Former Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore has a whole different approach. In our recent conversation, he made a very practical suggestion. “Make a big poster of Ravish Zahid calling on all women to stand on their feet and contribute to society. Put up the poster in all the schools and churches,” he told me.
“I wish and pray that she serves as a beacon of hope for our Christian women in Pakistan. Let our Christian girls use every means to get a good education and then go out and use their gifts and talents for the growth of the economy so that all may enjoy a decent standard of life. At the same time they must be good wives and home makers," he added.
"Youth always look for role models. So, I would hope that Ravish will be a role model for our Pakistani Christian girls, who often suffer from low self-esteem. Like Ravish, each girl has received talents and gifts from the Lord. Let her use them to spread light, hope and happiness. Our girls should take every opportunity to grow in knowledge and learn new skills.”
While she was studying in school, Ravish was a Lahore delegate to an International Young Christian Students (IYCS) meeting in the Philippines thanks to Archbishop Saldanha and the efforts of Salvatorian nuns.
Religious extremist groups
Ravish heralds a new trend in the Mrs. Pakistan World beauty pageant hosted in Canada. The recent contest had a more diverse group than previous ones, which have mainly featured Muslim models since the contest was launched in 2007. The team at Toronto-based Touchgate Global Inc. decided that they would flip the formula for the contest.
Ravish is this year's most important model. The new poster girl has a unique opportunity to use her status in a constructive way.
In every country women have to fight for their rightful place in society. Likewise, in the Islamic republic of Pakistan, several women’s organizations have been struggling for equal rights for many years. It has been all the more difficult because of the domination of certain religious extremist groups who are opposed to female education and want to impose their own interpretation of Sharia, the Islamic way of life.
They would like to see women confined to the four walls of their homes. This reminds me of a mud house I visited in Sindh province during the super floods of 2010. Even after a decade, I can’t shake off the image of four burqa-clad women crouched at the corner of the room like chickens trying to evade the butcher.
The same region is notorious for the forced conversion of Hindu girls. So these are the big challenges that minority women must face.
Aspiring Christian models and presenters also face an uphill struggle to make their career in the Pakistani media. Despite its glitz and glamour, the showbiz world has a dark track record of interfaith harmony. Several famous artists have converted to Islam in recent years.
Jiya Raja, co-host of Hasb-e-Hal, a political comedy show, is the former vocalist, presenter and program producer presenter of Radio Veritas Asia Urdu Service. The former Catholic has not visited the Workshop Audio Visual Education (WAVE) studio, the only Catholic production studio for audio-visuals in Pakistan, since becoming a star.
The fear of losing her fans or followers should dissuade Ravish from mending the difficult relationship between minority Christians and the majority Muslim population in Pakistan. She can use her title to project understanding, goodwill, harmony and solidarity among different people regardless of colour, caste or creed. She must avoid using her title only for promoting beauty and fashion products.
Ravish can follow the spirit and message of Pope Francis, who went to Assisi, Italy, last weekend in his first trip outside Rome since the coronavirus pandemic began and signed his new encyclical on human fraternity.
Fratelli tutti proposes a new way of life stressing fraternity and stresses that all humans should live in solidarity and good relations with one another. We all belong to one human family and should work together to overcome the harmful effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. This encyclical should be studied and implemented. It is a roadmap for the future.
Jesus said: “Do not hide your light ... but let your light shine so that others may see your good works and give praise to your Father in heaven.“ (Mt. 5:16 )
Kamran Chaudhry is a Catholic commentator based in Lahore. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.