The 20-year-old is the first Miss England constant to wear a hijab. She’s made it through to the semi-finals of the competition and if successful, will be taking part in the Miss England finals – the winner of which goes on to represent the nation in Miss World.
The aspiring social worker hopes that her success will help to challenge the stereotypes faced by Muslims. While she’s not the first Muslim women to compete in Miss England, Maria is the first to wear her hijab throughout the contest. She decided to apply for Miss Birmingham (her first pageant) after a mate sent her a link to the application. However, Maria thought she had little hope of success.
‘I told the organiser, “I have wardrobe restrictions and I am not a size 8,”‘ Maria tells the Daily Mail. ‘I am new to the pageant world so I didn’t know. But she said: “You don’t need to worry, there is not a bikini round anymore”‘.
‘You need to wear good clothes and you need to look polished but you don’t need to look like a supermodel.’
Maria says that as a child, she was bullied so badly for being ‘ugly’ that her tormentors would tell her to kill herself. ‘I wanted to show that it didn’t have to be this way’. On the first day of the competition, she says that she felt nervous as the only hijabi there.
‘You know when you’re nervous anyway, and then you become even more nervous because you don’t see anyone else who looks like you?’
But she impressed the judging panel so much that she was crowned first runner-up, concreting her place in the semi-finals. ‘Afterwards, I had the judges coming up to me telling me how much they loved what I was representing. That really, really felt good.
‘An Indian girl came up to me afterwards and said: “As an Asian woman I would never, never consider doing this but now seeing you I definitely will pursue it”.
Maria’s message? ‘You shouldn’t let your skin colour and your race hold your back.’ The competition’s semi-finals will be held in Nottinghamshire in July. Maria hasn’t decided whether she’ll be taking part in a swimwear round, should she be asked to.
‘I am pretty sure it is an optional round – if I felt like doing it, I would do it,’ she says. ‘But I would obviously wear something suitable to me.
‘There is what you call a burkini but I don’t know how I feel about that. I make my own clothes so I would probably make something that was appropriate but still swimwear. We’ll see.’