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First Catholic Mrs. Pakistan World strikes blow for minorities

Ravish Zahid plans to use her crown to inspire Pakistani women and promote gender equality

First Catholic Mrs. Pakistan World strikes blow for minorities

Ravish Zahid (second left) is congratulated by other Mrs. Pakistan World contestants. (Photo supplied)

There is a new addition to the beauty pageant scene: the first-ever Mrs. Pakistan World from the Catholic community.

Celebrities around the globe are taking to social media to promote Ravish Zahid, who made history in April by becoming the first Pakistani Catholic to win the crown.

“I would like to tell all the Pakistani community to support her as she is the first beauty queen from our Christian community,” Saman Hasnain Shah, winner of the Mrs. Pakistan World title in 2008, said in a video posted on Facebook.

Similar messages have been posted by Mr. Pakistan and others for the 26-year-old student, who is hoping to graduate from the human resources program this fall from the University of Texas in the United States, where she moved in 2016 after marrying her husband Drew Thomas.

She beat 20 global contestants in the beauty pageant held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The contest is for married women of Pakistani descent around the world. She is presently promoting the title in her hometown Lahore.

“Very few females from our country compete in such contests. The title gives me a chance to represent a softer side of Pakistan and show that we are also liberal. I want to work on equality of gender as well as minorities,” said Zahid, who initiated a fundraiser which generated 332,443 rupees (US$2,020) last month for poor students.

“These are Pakistani children of all religions; those without books, shelter and food. I also hope to inspire women in our country, which is generally considered as a conservative region.” 

The daughter of a political activist, she aims to work with charities, hospitals and other organizations. She began social work at St. Francis Church in Bahar Colony, a rundown Christian neighborhood of Lahore near an open sewer. She served as the country head of International Young Christian Students (IYCS) from 2005 to 2010. At the age of 12, she traveled alone to attend an IYCS conference in the Philippines.

“The exposure in childhood and the social work among dropouts and poor students helped me understand the plight of struggling communities,” said Zahid, thanking retired Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore for the opportunity.

Church reaction

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She also served as the first anchor of Catholic TV Pakistan, the cable channel managed by Lahore Archdiocese.

“This is very good news and a matter of pride for our country and the whole Christian community. Sadly, such titles are impossible for local females but she made the best of the opportunity abroad,” said Father Morris Jalal, founder and executive director of Catholic TV.

The Capuchin priest remembered visiting Bahmani Wala village in Punjab province with his crew in 2009 after a mob attacked Christian homes following blasphemy allegations against a Christian.

“She stood defiantly with us facing the villagers who were visibly irritated with the coverage,” he said.

Archbishop Saldanha called the beauty queen's success a pleasant surprise.

“I congratulate Ravish on her success. Our country these days is facing dark conflict and deep confusion. People are feeling depressed and hopeless. So it is certainly good news to hear that a member of our Pakistani Christian community has won such a title in Texas,” he said.

It gives honor and recognition to Pakistan in general and to Christians in particular. So I am very happy for Ravish on her achievement and wish her all the best.”

The hidden beauty

Beauty contests are not held in Pakistan, where many women only go out in public covered in a veil. In August, traders in Doaba city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province issued a ban on social media prohibiting women from shopping without men and announced punishment for shopkeepers permitting such customers.

They later apologized in a notice issued to the deputy commissioner, who warned trade union Pasban-e-Doaba of strict action.

The militancy-plagued northern province has a tradition of banning women voters through local jirga (assembly) laws enforcing local traditions and Sharia law.

Four-star hotels in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi regularly stage fashion shows, attracting foreign buyers, featuring models wearing bridal collections and the creations of local designers. Most of the models are Muslims.

In 2006, Anglican bishops and pastors called for the resignation of Church of Pakistan Bishop Emeritus Alexander John Malik of Lahore for blessing the marriage of his daughter Nadia, a famous model, to a Muslim at the Cathedral Church of The Resurrection.

A mufti called for death of the infidel, arguing that she attended a church ceremony after her alleged conversion to Islam. The couple moved to Scotland a few months later.

The same year, Pakistani Canadian Sonya Zia became the first Christian to win Miss Pakistan World. A few months later, Mariyah Moten, a 22-year-old US-based Pakistani, became Pakistan's first Miss Bikini after she topped the Best in Media category for being the most photographed and interviewed contestant at the pageant in China.

Local authorities threatened the model for not having permission to represent the country and asked Pakistani missions in Washington and Beijing to investigate her case. “It is against our policy, culture and religion," said former Culture Ministry official Abdul Hafeez Chaudhry.

In April, Maulana Tariq Jameel, a senior member of Tablighi Jamaat, stirred controversy after stating that the coronavirus pandemic is God’s wrath upon people because of immodest women.

In 2003, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafar Allah Jamali ordered authorities to crack down on “un-Islamic” fashion shows.

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