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April 14th, 2011
04:26 PM ET

Muslim beauty contestant faces critics on all sides, she says

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Manchester, England (CNN) - Shanna Bukhari gets some pretty nasty messages through Facebook, she says. They call her a "dirty Muslim." They say England is a "white nationality country" and she shouldn't be allowed to represent it.

But that's just what she hopes to do at the Miss Universe beauty contest this year. If the Manchester, England-based fashion model wins the British contest next month, Bukhari will become the first Muslim to represent Britain at the international contest.

The idea isn't going down well with everyone - Bukhari says she has gotten hate mail from across the board.

"I've had racists, I've had a minority from Muslim community, I've had it from all religions and all communities that dislike what I'm doing," she said.

The most upsetting messages, she said, are video links suggesting she should be murdered.

Since she started getting threats, she has made a point of never being alone, and a private security firm guards her when she appears at charity events, she said.

Some of the abuse she gets is based on a misunderstanding, she said.

"I am not representing Islam and I am not the one that brought my religion into this," Bukhari said. "The minority out there should not use my religion to attack me."

She's not planning to wear a bikini, she said, explaining that her swimsuit will be a one-piece topped with a sarong.

"I don't think I would be comfortable wearing a bikini," she said.

Bukhari says she's a good Muslim.

"This competition does not define me as a person. It doesn't make me any less of a Muslim being in a pageant like this," she said. "Pageants like this are happening in Muslim countries as well."

And a British woman shouldn't have to defend herself from the sort of criticism she's getting from a few Muslims, she argued.

"We live in a Western society and there is a minority out there who is trying to dictate and control others... they need to start accepting England as a whole and treat it as their country."

One of her critics agrees with her on that point.

"As much as I may oppose the way a certain person dresses, I think it's important that people should have the right to dress the way they want to dress," said Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Manchester-based Muslim youth organization working to build cross-community understanding.

But, although he says Shanna Bukhari may have a right to enter a beauty contest he says she should not.

"Islam is very clear that women should dress in a modest way and guard their modesty, and certainly as a liberal Muslim myself, I do believe that she should do just that."

He objects to pageants "where women have to be paraded and idolized as sexual objects," and dismisses the argument that pageant winners do a lot of charity work.

"You can promote peace without having the title Mrs Universe or Mrs UK for that matter," he said.

Despite his objections to beauty contests, Shafiq says he bears Bukhari no ill will.

"I totally condemn the death threats she may have received and the hate mail she may have received," he said. "I've opposed her but it doesn't mean I'm full of hatred and I wish her well."

More people back Shanna Bukhari's quest to be Miss Universe than oppose it, she said.

"I've had so much support from all over, not just the United Kingdom ... Hong Kong, China, Pakistan, India, many Muslim countries - it's way more than the hate that I've received," she said.

On the streets of Manchester, where she lives, not a single person who spoke to CNN objected to what Bukhari was doing.

"Whether you're Muslim or whatever your religion is, you should be entitled to do what you like. You should be allowed to do it regardless of your religion," said David Yates.

"Why not?" asked Priya Baghani, who is not Muslim. "In Manchester there are a lot of Muslims, so that might be representative of this community, so why not?"

Several women wearing headscarves declined to answer CNN's questions about Bukhari.

But one of the world's best-known Muslim beauty queens is backing her.

Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih is both the first Arab-American and the first Muslim to win that title. She sought out Bukhari after hearing her story to offer advice and a gift.

"Be fearless, be proud of who you are and no matter what anyone tells you by using religion as a tool against you, don't let that affect you," she said.

"I sent Shanna a bracelet just like mine," Fakih said, jangling a wrist covered with good luck charms, "and I hope it's going to keep her safe."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Culture wars • Europe • Islam • Muslim • United Kingdom

soundoff (1,004 Responses)
  1. Kira Hudson

    The amount of make-up on her face scares me. The black eye shadow that she has on her face in this video would last me a year. Just saying. She is not a natural beauty... I do not think that this kind of a woman should be chosen to represent a country in a BEAUTY contest in the first place.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  2. Dude

    Can you say Unibrow!

    April 15, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  3. costner

    Guys, stop abusing religions. People have their own beliefs for different reasons and nobody can stop it. However, in the real life scenario no religion recommend a women to expose in public though the men in general public likes it. Let’s all pray that this world to be a better place and treasure each religious values. With due respect to all the other religions I believe in Islam with greater understanding for its in-depth analysis explanations and the way in which things that have been defined for every single matter. It took so many years for me to get in to this level of understanding about Islam. Now at this moment I feel so much peace in my heart and know what reality is. However it is not achievable easily until you make your own research and judgements, hence please do read the Quran and understand the correct meaning before you make statements about something you lack in knowledge.
    In the case of beauty queen, people will make unusual and fabricated statements to make them popular in the process. Someone could make a wild statement tomorrow against any religious belief for their personal benefit. Shanna too trying to do the same thing I believe. For that matter as a responsible news station CNN should report about more important things around in the world rather than giving priority to this type of silly topics.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  4. umar hamza

    What else does she has to display beside her body? her religion? of course no. She reduced herself as a muslim, but she has not taken a thing from islam

    April 15, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  5. Mattski

    She should just change her religion. That's the nice thing about religions, they can be turned on and off by simply deciding to do so. Maybe she should ask herself why she wants to be associated with such barbarians anyway.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  6. tutuvabene

    This is excellent. For once we have a Muslim who feels she doesn't have to wear a scarf, niqab, burqa or other nonsense to believe in God. It's all about faith, not cloth. More Muslim role models like this are needed.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  7. Ahmed Naseer Abdul-Haqq

    It is said the difference between a Muslim and a non muslim is the salah prayer(at the lease). Just to say im Muslim cause i have a Muslim name raised my a Muslim family or from a Muslim Country is not enough. Most non muslims dont understand this and thats why they think everybody that name is Abdullah is always a practicing Muslim in its truest form. So i challenge Cnn to show me proof that this women even prays 5 times a day everyday cause the Prayer is what helps keep us out of trouble.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • Anonymous

      prayer 5 times a day? keep you out trouble? how backwards are you? you dont need religion to keep you out of trouble. just be a decent human being.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • tutuvabene

      I've seen enough extremely pious Muslim religious fanatics for whom prayer gets them into trouble, depending on what they are praying for.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  8. Dikran

    Who said she's beautiful? LOL Wishful thinking....

    April 15, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  9. john

    That is crap that she has to deal with the racist comments and threats. She was born in england so there for has every right to represent her country in any way she wants...So everyone that dont agree with it needs to look at there own life and fix what ever is makeing them hurt others with slander to make themselves feel better...

    April 15, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  10. Andrew

    She is the person representing Britain in a beauty contest. Someone, whoever picks the winner Miss Britain, is trying to make a point, there trying to send a message about race here. That's obvious because their are many more beautiful woman than this one. The must have decided to pick a minority woman right off the bat, because this woman is homely looking, she is swimming in eye shadow. My wife is hotter than her.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • JC

      These contests are called beauty contests, but they not just about a person's looks. I assume this contest requires the contestants to demonstrate some physical talent as well as the ability to express themselves intelligently by answering questions. I bet your "hot" wife is as dumb as a bag of rocks.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  11. Amaz

    What ever happened to ;
    Live ...and let live.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  12. winds of change

    Its time for her to dump her religion and be free of people trying to tell her what she should do. She is way to pretty to be held back by a backword women disinegrating religion.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Dan Durea

      dump yourself in a sewer

      April 15, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  13. Hi Andy Dick

    When did Andy Dick change his name to Richard Green? O.o

    April 15, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  14. Khan

    The reality is Muslims of Pakistani origins (well before 9/11 they were pakistanies post 9/11 they are only muslims) came to uk in 1950s and 60s. They were mostly from a very poor and illiterate area called Mirpur even from the standards of a common pakistani. The reason they migrated because the whole towm of mirpur came under water due to a dam construction(mangla dam was built by americans in return of pakistanies allowing them flying U2 spy planes to soviet russia for spying missions from pakistani bases). But a new life in Briton couldnt change them they saw a foreign culture a threat to their values and became even more fundamentaly committed to their values(religious and cultural) in a pakistani culture your most precious possessions are considered to be your children, and when they thought their children are not going to serve them the way they served their parents if brought up in foreign culture terrified them. Therefore they turned more and more demanding from their children and their children rebelled and result was honour killings. So the mirpur clan couldnt progress even spending decades in UK. Even Pakistan progressed and urban pakistan is more open then mirpuri pakistanies living in Briton. They remained stuck in time cant go back and cant go ahead.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  15. Mixmatch

    muslim and beauty is an oxymoron.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Eric

      Well you've got the word "moron" right. Now just look in the mirror.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • elliemae

      You should travel more and educate yourself about the world in which you live.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Dan Durea

      How old are you my child?

      April 15, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  16. baby sing

    this woman should be left alone. she is not a devout radical muslim, or she would not be in the beauty contest. this is like wanting to punish a Baptist pageant winner right after Tim McVeigh killed all the innocents. her life is in danger from others of her faith. when i saw she had won, my heart went out to her, as it will be a miracle if she lives to serve any term, much less run for Miss Universe. let her enjoy her win and let her have some peace.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  17. Adam

    The girl should do whatever she wants to do, not up to anyone to decide on.
    Nut something did catch my eye tho:

    "I am not representing Islam and I am not the one that brought my religion into this," Bukhari said. "The minority out there should not use my religion to attack me."

    She's not planning to wear a bikini, she said, explaining that her swimsuit will be a one-piece topped with a sarong.

    "I don't think I would be comfortable wearing a bikini," she said.

    Bukhari says she's a good Muslim."

    So she is not representing the Islam but still she uses all kinds of things related to the Islam, not wearing a bikini for example.
    Then she states that shes a good Muslim.
    She doesnt even realises that she twists her own words, how funny is that.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • Katie

      Not wearing a bikini is a preference that stems from her personal faith, she isn't wearing a one-piece in an effort to preach to the world.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  18. Missus

    Miss US is already a Muslim and we have no issues here.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • SayWhaaat

      What do we really know if Miss USA is safe?

      April 15, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  19. The Half Baked Lunatic

    People just need to get over themselves. It's a freakin beauty contest for crying out loud.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  20. Richard Allen

    As an advanced society, we, as a world, are still prejudice and racist. How frickin retarded. Why people must hate others is beyond me. It's not your life she is leading and if she wants to represent the UK, more power to her. Sadly, I have to admit she'd never win Miss American. We're all such morons in the US that all we see are things like religion and do not take into account what actually matters, and that is the character of the person. If she is a good and decent person then she should have just as much change to win, but since she is a Muslim, she'd never have an inkling of a shot. Frickin stupid people in this world still screwing it up for those of us who are accepting of all races, religions, nationalities, etc. Wake up, or get left behind.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:30 am |
    • Baltic

      "As an advanced society,"

      You must be joking, it's a mess now and has been continuing to spiral downwards for a long time.

      April 15, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Steve

      Do you have a clue as to what you are talking about? Miss USA 2010 is a Muslim. If we are as racist as you say how did that happen or President Obama for that matter. Get off the soapbox!

      April 15, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • Ben Wolf

      Actually Richard, at the end of the article they show the first muslim to win miss USA give her support. The United States is a much more accepting place than you make it out to be.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • cullinan

      At least she is bold

      April 15, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Dude

      Advanced societies don't have beauty contests.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Chris

      It's these so-called social advances that you're so proud of that are the root cause of the majority of problems in modern society.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Sara

      "Richard Allen: As an advanced society, we, as a world, are still prejudice and racist. How frickin retarded."

      And yet you have no problem using the word 'retarded', practice what you preach.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:07 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.