Muslim with dream to be Miss England. By Maurice Chittenden
30 Aug 2005
A BEAUTY title contestant whose family fled Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime is the first British Iraqi Muslim to appear in the finals of the Miss England competition.
Sarah Mendly, 23, many of whose relatives are still suffering in post-liberation Baghdad, wants to use her success in the contest to raise awareness of war victims. She is defying the possible wrath of Islamic fundamentalists to take part in the finals next weekend.
However, one element of modesty on which she insists is a refusal to wear a bikini, although she may put on a one-piece swimsuit under a sarong for a photo-shoot.
Mendly, who has an honours degree in biomedical science, was voted Miss Nottingham, her native city, in a mobile texting ballot in which she polled more than 5,000 votes.
She is currently leading in a text vote of the 40 finalists for an automatic place in the shortlist of 12 from whom the winner will be chosen in Liverpool next Saturday.
Mendly, who is a sales representative for the drug firm Merck, will travel to China for the Miss World contest in December if she wins. The first prize there is $100,000.
"I hope to win the Miss England crown and use the popularity of the title towards a good cause, such as making the public aware of charities like the Children of War," she said last week.
"As a 12-year-old I was trapped in Baghdad for three-and-a-half months during the first Gulf war while visiting relatives with my mother, sister and brothers. Quite a few members of my family have died in Iraq since the war because of the lack of necessities.
"All my relatives apart from my immediate family still live in Baghdad. My aunt, who was in her thirties, died two years ago because there are not enough epidural drips there. She was pregnant and the baby died with her."
Mendly added: "It is still very dangerous. My uncles say that even when they leave their houses to buy some bread they kiss their wives and children as if they are not coming back because they don't know what is going to happen."
Though her parents are Iraqi she was born in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, while her father was working there for an oil firm. The family moved to Britain in 1983 when she was one, and she has lived in Nottingham since.
Her mother encouraged her to take part in the contest because there has never been an Iraqi Muslim in a top beauty contest staged in Britain. "I was raised as a Muslim but my family are not fanatical," she said. "We believe that Islam is between you and God. We don't involve other people and don't go to the mosque.
"Some fanatics might say entering a beauty contest is the wrong thing to do because you are putting yourself up to be judged by your physical appearance but my family supports me."
The Miss World contest has always emphasised the morality of its contestants, and after years of feminist protests reinvented itself with the women no longer judged on looks alone but also on personality and intelligence.
However, it misjudged the attitudes of Muslims to its values when it was held in Nigeria in 2002. The crowds reacted furiously when a journalist suggested that the Prophet Muhammad might approve of the contest. An estimated 250 died in the riots that followed.