A wannabe Miss Universe will become the first contestant to take to the catwalk wearing a KAFTAN after convincing the competition to accommodate her faith.
Muna Jama, 27, will stand out from other beauties in bikinis on stage for the British final after pushing pageant organisers to allow her to cover up.
The glamorous Muslim campaigner was inspired to apply for Miss Universe GB two years ago, but after receiving a letter inviting her to take part she got cold feet.
Imagining standing in front of an audience in a bikini, which she knew was an essential part of the pageant, Muna felt she would not fit in.
Wearing the revealing swimwear went against her religion, and rather than challenging the organisers or compromising her beliefs, she withdrew from the contest.
Muna, of Forest Green, London, said: “I wouldn’t wear a bikini to a beach, so I’m not going to wear one in a competition to score points.”
But she had a change of heart after volunteering in Egypt and Somalia last year to highlight inaction over the refugee crisis, and decided to give it a go – on her terms.
She hopes the high-profile platform will be a chance for her to raise awareness of causes close to her heart – in particular the suffering of children caught up in the migrant crisis.
Muna felt compelled to help – particularly as so many people risking their lives crossing the Med originated from Somalia, the country her parents had left when she was born in 1989.
She said: “I became very involved in the project and going to Somalia. Most of the people travelling across the Mediterranean Sea are Eritrean, Somalian and Syrian.
“I’m Somalian and I felt something needed to be done.”
She gave up a job in car sales in order to travel to Egypt and then Somalia and get informed about the situation and how to make a difference.
Muna quickly adapted to her new environments, wearing a hijab to fit in, which she rarely did at home in Forest Gate, east London.
The more she spent time with children who could end up risking their lives on overcrowded boats in the hands of people smugglers, the smaller she felt her own problems were.
It pushed her to think once more about taking part in Miss Universe GB, to share what she had learnt with a wider and more diverse audience.
This year was her last chance to take part in the pageant, which is open to women aged between 18 and 27, a branch of the competition started in 1952 by a swimwear company.
And this time she decided to ask the organisers to make a concession, excusing her from wearing swimwear – on the grounds that the worst that could happen was her request was turned down.
Muna said: “These pageants are associated with beauty and modelling but over the years there has been a platform for other females using their platform differently.
“What I wanted to do was to raise awareness of what I have been working so hard for.”
The process of getting the organisers to agree to relaxing the rules was harder than Muna anticipated.
She added: “It took a bit of back and forward with Miss Universe. They said they were happy to allow me to compete.
“It wasn’t easy but I think it was the first time they have heard someone asking for it.
“I thought they are either going to say yes or no, and I get to talk about what I’m passionate about.”
The final will be a three-day event including a celebration dinner, a catwalk in front of an audience of beauty and fashion insiders and an ’empowerment day’ by a top leadership coach.
In the weeks ahead of the festivities in July, in Cardiff, Muna was looking forward to shopping for outfits to wow the judges and make her stand out from the 39 other finalists.
She said: “I’d come back from work all the time and was hearing about the Mediterranean Sea crisis.
“I felt there was no solution and no resolution. People wanted to help and all we could do was donate but we don’t know where it is going, and people keep getting hurt.
“Being here and having these children talk to me and show me things, I thought maybe I’m the right person for this project.”