One of Indonesia's most influential Islamic groups is urging the government to cancel the Miss World pageant scheduled for next month, saying the exposure of skin by women in a competition violates Muslim teachings, an official said Monday.
A top-level meeting of clerics was held earlier this month by the Indonesian Ulema Council to respond to protests from some groups over Indonesia's hosting of the event, even after organizers agreed to cut the bikini competition and instead outfit contestants in more conservative sarongs, council chairman Amidan Shaberah said.
"Our position is clear, we reject Indonesia being the host of Miss World," Shaberah said. "Because exposing their bodies in a contest is against Islamic teachings."
The council is an influential Islamic body that often issues fatwas, or edicts, including controversial rulings against smoking and yoga. Though not legally binding, many devoted Muslims follow such decrees because ignoring them is considered a sin.
Shaberah said the council will not officially demand that the government cancel the event, but will instead recommend that it be stopped. The pageant is scheduled to be held partly on the resort island of Bali, with the final round on Sept. 28 near the capital, Jakarta.
"We are not Sharia police, we are not law enforcers," Shaberah said, referring to authorities who enforce Islamic law. "But we suggest the government cancel it."
Adjie S. Soeratmadjie of RCTI, the official broadcaster and local organizer of the event, said the concerns were being heard and that some adjustments were being made to make the pageant more appropriate for Indonesian culture and more like other beauty contests held in the country.
"We understand the position" of the council, Soeratmadjie said. "But the show must go on ... we call on the protesters to avoid anarchy and we are sure authorities can maintain security."
He added that Miss Israel had dropped out of the competition, but declined to give the reason. Indonesia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.
Last week, the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front pledged to stage protests across the country to prevent Indonesia from hosting the competition.
"The Miss World pageant is only an excuse to exhibit women's body parts," said its leader, Riziek Shihab. "We are obliged to disband it if the government allows it to be held in any region of Indonesia."
The front has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. Lady Gaga was forced to cancel her sold-out Indonesia show last year after threats from the group, which branded her a "devil worshipper."
The chairwoman of the Miss World Organization, Julia Morley, earlier confirmed that none of the contestants would wear a bikini.
The pageant began in the 1950s, and the first winner was crowned in a two-piece bathing suit.
Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 240 million people and the world's most populous Islamic country, are moderate, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.