Zehra Abukar traveled to Detroit, Michigan to compete in the 2020 Miss Muslimah USA 2020 contest and brought home a win on September 24. At the competition Abukar displayed her dance skills and her fashion design skills. Her pageant biography reads: “Who I am is a woman with a purpose: a purpose to encourage, inspire, and uplift other Muslim women – to break them free of their insecurities and show them how self-confidence can change their lives.”

Story by Abigail Nelson – originally published April, 2020

Launched in 2016, the Miss Muslimah USA National Pageant showcases the inner beauty, accomplishments, and religious pride of Muslim women across the country. This year, Zehra Abukar of Portland is competing for the prestigious title.

“No Muslim woman who practices Islam can compete in a beauty pageant where you have to wear a bikini or show your body,” Abukar said, emphasizing that her faith means everything to her, and that she cares about how Muslims across the world are represented. “I like to answer people’s questions about Islam and show that we are kind people. What you see in the media doesn’t represent every one of us.”

The Miss Muslimah USA National Pageant has given Abukar a platform for standing proud as a Somali Muslim American woman and paving the way for other young girls to do the same. Abukar expressed gratitude for the creation of a platform that allows Muslim women to express confidence in themselvs and their belief systems. The national pageant will be held in September in Michigan.

Contestants across the country recently completed the pre-pageant competition, for which they collected votes from their communities to advance them to the final competition. The contestants will be judged wearing three different outfits: a burkini, an abaya, and a special occasion evening gown. They also will be judged on talent. Abukar will perform her own Spoken Word composition to showcase her writing talent.

This will be Abukar’s first time competing in an event like this. A friend of hers heard about the competition and encouraged her to participate. “I wasn’t sure at first. It took me a while to decide if I wanted to do it,” Abukar said. “But then I thought, ‘Someone needs to do it,’ so I did!” Abukar is excitedly looking forward to the experience, and the stories she will hear and the connections she will gain. So far, Abukar has received much support from the community. People have stopped her at social events and encouraged her journey by letting her know they are rooting for her.

If Abukar wins, she plans to create a nonprofit organization to help Muslim women become entrepreneurs and business owners. “I want to create a group of people who will come together to share hobbies and learn English,” Abukar said. She wants to provide the tools necessary for the women to create, learn, and develop what they enjoy, such as speaking English, making jewelry, knitting, or writing.

Already Abukar has made an impression. She recently was awarded a Natural Leader Certificate from the City of Portland for her work in the area. Abukar has developed her leadership skills over the years as the Multicultural and International Student Club President, AmeriCorps President, Maine state representative at the International Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) Conference in Anaheim, Ca., and DECA Chapter President. Distributive Education Clubs of America is a 501(c)3 nonprofit career and technical student organization. Abukar aspires to be a trailblazer for Muslim women, and clearly has already begun to make her mark.