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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. JM

    Who said she was a beauty – pretty darn ugly in my view.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • EvanD

      Yeah, I'm sure your woman is so much hotter. You're a douchbag.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Dave

      Evan, he probably means compared to his photoshopped girlfriends online...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Rufus

      I have a little game I play. After reading a story, I scroll down, start reading comments and see how many I read before I get to one that is totally devoid of value, decency or evidence of thought. You set a new record.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  2. Sarita

    Good luck to you Shanna. You are beautiful, however you are not only displaying your beauty in this pageant, you are displaying your strength, courage, individuality and your high moral. Good luck to you, I hope you win. You can open the eyes of people on both ends, the radicals as well as the racists who say you don't represent them. You do represent the UK, Good luck, don't back down and God will help you.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  3. Ezra

    People really need to get a life – leave the woman alone and let her pursue her dream.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Smith

      Do you mean Muslims?

      April 15, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  4. Angus Young

    This lady is Chuck Norris approved

    April 15, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  5. Lola

    I would guess that most of her critics are fellow muslims and she's too scared to admit that. If there are death threats, it would come from the muslim community.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Kalid

      Yea, because its not like there are racists out there who would threaten people with death, or wait...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Piltdown Man

      Kalid, is islam a 'race' or a 'religion'? Explain 'racism' to us in this context, if you can...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  6. Knuckle-Dragging Troglodyte

    I bet she looks smoking hot in a black burqa! Grrrrr.....

    April 15, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  7. Reevus.

    She looks like a man

    April 15, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  8. AthiestJack

    As a former Catholic, yet another reason why religious extremists (especially Christians) sicken me.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Uneducated Voter

      You sound like an atheist extremist.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Brian

      Sickens us all. Maybe you should reconsider the gift of salvation through Christ though bro. Catholic churches are a little creepy and fairly non-biblical in major ways (praying to Mary, the pope etc) If you have a chance, pop into a smaller protestant church somewhere and see what the pastor has to say. Love and peace and hope are the opposite of extreme. Christ was not extreme- He was kind and gentle and tried to be nice to everyone, tried to attract people and never hated, ever. Those who hate in Gods name will be better off with a "...millstone tied around their neck..." headed to the bottom of the sea in a hurry.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Dontworry

      Hey Kalid, no other religion cares if she is in a pageant...only yours......

      April 15, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  9. Knuckle-Dragging Troglodyte

    Ah yes, the peaceful (and tolerant) 'religion' of islam, perpetually stuck in a Middle Age mindset. Coming soon to a civilized nation near you...

    April 15, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Kalid

      So did you not read the part of the article where it said she was getting hate mail from many different groups and religions? Or did your little mind automatically go into "hate islam" mode and decide to make a dumb little comment?

      April 15, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Knuckle-Dragging Troglodyte

      Jeez-Louise Kalid, knock the chip off your shoulder and stop being such a whining maggot. Lighten up, have a drink, get a sense of humor, and/or get laid once in a while and maybe (just maybe) you won't be so freakin' angry all the time!!

      April 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  10. Valgal

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

    LOL, when I first read that, I was like... is she homeless??? May need to change the wording up on that sentence.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  11. imominous

    Heh. While many women in developed countries decry these "beauty contests" as objectivication that marginalizes women, here comes Little Miss Stone Age aching to jump into the fray!

    Sorry, hon, you're about thirty years too late. The Beauty Contest industry is waning. Nothing of value lost.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  12. Edward

    It seems she has the same make-up artist that Nathlie Portman had for Black Swan.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  13. Frost

    Smokin hot. I just love her.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  14. Apocatequil

    It is a shame that they keep choosing theists for these contests...it just makes the countries they represent look just as backwards....they should be a nice atheist girl. (any colour, big bizongas)

    April 15, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  15. GonzoG

    So sad that she can't just be herself and escape critism. I'm sure she's a lovely and personable lady with a bright future ahead of her.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  16. M

    The hypocrisies of religion sicken me. Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, says she should dress modesty and shouldn't be paraded around in a bikini. But as a Muslim he thinks it's OK for her to be covered in a Burqa with just a slit for her eyes. He thinks that is ok and humane. But her making the conscious choice to enter a beauty pageant is NOT ok.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  17. Megan

    The hypocrisies of religion sicken me. Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, says she should dress modesty and shouldn't be paraded around in a bikini. But as a Muslim he thinks it's OK for her to be covered in a Burqa with just a slit for her eyes. He thinks that is ok and humane. But her making the conscious choice to enter a beauty pageant is NOT ok.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Brian

      Indeed, that's religion for you. Religion is man made and full of hypocrisy and contradictions. Jesus was not impressed, to say the least, with the religious jerks of his day. A personal relationship with the true God is something of eternal value and can be perfected by God only over a lifetime. Perhaps this woman will find her way through this and learn good things from the experiences she encounters. No one can know but her. Wrapping up women like a burrito sure doesn't seem necessary, unless of course men see themselves and other men as dogs with know honor or self control. To be sure, some men are exactly that. But many of us find beauty to be healthy and a gift from God himself, who created men and women equally to compliment one another. Personally, I would discourage my daughters from pageants, and we do not watch them at our house. But if women choose to take part in such contests, to compete with their talents and beauty, they should be free to do so. Just as we are free to view it positively nor negatively. And anyone who threatens a woman has no honor at all. None.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • veggiedude

      All you have done is put words in his mouth, that he did not say. I see him as a feminist, with the classic feminist objection to the pageant.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  18. Megan

    The hypocrisies of religion sicken me. Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, says she should dress modesty and shouldn't be paraded around in a bikini. But as a Muslim he thinks it's OK for her to be covered in a Burqa with just a slit for her eyes. He thinks that is ok and humane. But her making the conscious choice to enter a beauty pageant is NOT ok.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Kalid

      I'm sorry, maybe I missed it in the article, where did it say he thought she should be wearing a burqa? Your ignorance about religion is also a little sickening...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Ames

      Tell us what's really on your mind...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Katherine

      I agree with him. All he really said is that she needn't a bikini to promote peace. I grew up protestant and my belief in modesty is the same. I don't lecture in a bikini to solidify my topic. Now, if she said she was doing it for the fame and notoriety that's an entirely different story... she might want to slap on the bikini. Either way is her body and her life.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  19. Pedro

    I would like to see this beautiful girl in bikini.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • moe smith

      that's because you're a letch.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Pedro

      Letch? Yes I am, and damn proud of it!

      April 15, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Wisnbone

      Me too and you're not a "letch". Moe, what do you do when you see a girl in a bikini...turn you head?

      April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Knuckle-Dragging Troglodyte

      They don't call him "Moe" for nothing... hahahaha!!!

      April 15, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  20. David C

    She's no Miss Turkey. HHMMMM Turkey...

    April 15, 2011 at 9:02 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.