Miss Iraq Crowned: Shaima Qassem Abdulraham Crowned First Miss Iraq Since 1972

Shaima Qassem Abdulraham was crowned Miss Iraq over the weekend, marking the first time a woman has been named Miss Iraq since 1972. Not only did Abdulraham beat out the other contestants, she also fought against the opposition and death threats she received leading up to the competition.

The pageant, held in Baghdad, was the the first to take place in over 43 years. While the pageant website explained that the organizers were hoping they would “highlight the bright side of Iraq,” they were faced with intense opposition and death threats that caused the number of competitors to drop from nearly 200 to less than 10, according to CNN. The backlash also forced the pageant organizers to remove the swimsuit portion of the competition. Despite the threats, Shaima, a 20-year-old economics student, was determined to participate in the pageant, saying she didn’t fear anything because she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“I want to prove that the Iraqi woman has her own existence in society, she has her rights like men,” Abdulrahman told NBC News. “I am afraid of nothing, because I am confident that what I am doing is not wrong.”

Abdulrahman, who is from the northern city of Kirkuk, said that she had hoped “to reflect the culture of Iraq. She added that Saturday’s competition was “not about beauty alone,” and was definitely not just a “fashion show.” After being crowned, she said, “I call all Iraqi girls to feel this experience.”

Ironically, Shaima’s parents had initially banned her from participating in the competition. However, after much persuasion, they agreed to let her enter the pageant, something she had always wanted to do.

“In the past I heard that such contests used to be held in Baghdad — I dreamed of being a part of one of these contests,” she said during an October interview, adding that her country and the Iraqi people were “badly in need of such cultural activities” after the turmoil they have experienced in the recent years. “After all we have been through, we need to do something new that would reform our society,” she said.

“Iraq needed this,” Ahmed Leith, the pageant director, said. “The situation is weak here, and we wanted to celebrate this the same way other countries like Lebanon and others do. To have a sense of normalcy.”

Although the pageant went on without any disturbances, Abdulrahman received a threatening telephone call on Tuesday. During the call, Shaima was told to join ISIS, or be kidnapped. According to the Jerusalem Post, she was warned to join the ranks of the Islamic State movement, or face being kidnapped. Shaima was obviously shaken by the phone call, but vowed to not let it stop her from doing what she set out to do and to “continue forward despite any obstacles.”

Currently, one-third of Iraq is controlled by ISIS. Shaima, herself, has seen the devastating loss created by the Islamic State. Two of her cousins were members of Iraq’s federal police, and were killed fighting the militants. Five of Shaima’s eight fellow contestants were forced to relocated after ISIS overran the northern city of Mosul last year.

Abdulrahman is set to compete in the Miss Universe contest, which is scheduled to be held in Thailand in March 2016.

[Photo via Shutterstock]