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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. hooray

    HOORAY! A moderate Muslim publicly condemning the extremist Muslims while making a peaceful argument for his belief in regard to the subject. I'm glad to hear one brave enough to speak out.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • you know

      i dont think woman or a man should participate in a compation where they have to show there body like that. especailly for a women

      April 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  2. Rob

    when are people going to figure out that it's not the muslims in the bikini contests you need to worry about.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • dhondi

      You sir have obviously never heard of the bikini bomb.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Josh

      Right on, Rob. I concur.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • tom

      Hello - based on that picture - it is a sad day for British women if she can win–

      What about Kate Middleton?

      Who does this woman's eye make up? She looks like a mental patient. (Apologies to females with borderline personality disorder)

      April 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • paul

      tom i agree with you that eye makeup is too heavy, too amateur for drag and she's past her prime.. perhaps if she dropped islam for scientology there may be time to rehabilitate her look before she's entirely under the bus for pageants

      April 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  3. JLS

    Mohammed Shafiq you are a classic hypocrite! You bear Bukhari no ill will. "I totally condemn the death threats she may have received"... "May have"... I guess she's making it up eh? You're casting doubt as to what this woman has been experienced. I wonder if the "The Ramadhan Foundation" that you run is as transparent as your opinion is? That is what England should really be concerned with "in my opinion". The problem here isn't this young woman; it's the ignorance of religion.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  4. schwarzkopff

    whats wrong wid UK? .. Is UK out of beauty?????? Rihanna is far better than this ugly girl.. yukkkkkkkkkk... shes good for maid service.. lQQk @ her face....... A Berliner...

    April 15, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  5. A.R.M.

    This is the 21st Century people. Why do we have to bring religion and race into EVERYTHING that is talked about anymore? This is a beautiful young woman who has worked really hard to get where she has gotten. Leave her alone and let her make her own decisions whether if it's right or wrong. She has a voice and let it be heard.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  6. Hassan

    Why does CNN insist of posting stuff that brings a negative pic about Islam (and put it on the homepage)? Ignorant people ONLY read these articles and develop hatred towards this religion. Remember the Holland killings in that mall a week ago? When it was first unknown who shot the innocent people CNN had the news all over, hence giving all the ignorant a chance to diss Islam and come up with stupid baseless accusations. When it was found out that the killer was very much a blue-eyed dutch, I couldn't find the article.

    Shame on you CNN. Shame on you western media. You are guilty of you people's ignorance and I hope one day you will be held accountable for all this. Who cares about that pageant contest? Is it really worth it to bring up the criticism she might face from people who like decency? Why? I'm with her. Express your right for freedom. I don't care. But why open the door for openly criticizing a religion 90% of the readers have no idea about. I'm sure CNN can go interview some Christian conservatives in the US and come up with an article expressing the dislike of that community to the indecency involved with such a contest. But they don't need to. Because Christianity isn't under attack. Islam is.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • David Fostet

      If you had started your diatribe with condemnation of the small numbers of murders among your reiigion, I might have paid more attention to what you said. I almost never hear any Muslim writers condemn that. Why is that? Why are almost all of your criticisms about words instead of murder?

      April 15, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Sam

      @David – You think news paper would pubish something that they do NOT want to show. Wouldn't hat be cognitive dissonance?

      April 15, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. blahh

    makeup overkill in her eyes. she's a pretty girl, but that makeup makes her eyes look too smokey... by the way, the koran says women should dress modestly. but it doesn't specify a head scarf or anything else... just saying

    April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  8. roy

    to hate a person because of how they worship god is just wrong,small minds have small hearts

    April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  9. artseid

    She should convert into another religion and be done with it

    April 15, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  10. fuyuko

    No one should be treated the way she is being treated. While I don't really agree with beauty pageants, its a free country and if this is what people want to spend their time on, so be it.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  11. Derakh

    I am not really a fan of beauty pageants, but I think people should be able to do what they want. Additionally, Ms. Bukhari sounds like a dedicated Muslim and I am confident that she can actively participate in whatever she likes while adhering to her religion's traditions.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  12. roy

    you go girl,proud of you, you can do more good in a day then some can in a life time

    April 15, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  13. Derp derp

    Islam respects its women derp derp! And England is a tolerant place. DERP!

    April 15, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  14. Karen

    Religion sucks, and objectification of women (through beauty pageants, for example) sucks. It's a lose/lose situation. This whole story is sickening.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • lancem

      However, the whole basis of human (or any animal) existence is to attract a mate and produce offspring, so objectification is a natural part of this process. Unless you think that humans have some greater purpose for being on earth than any other animal or object, but then that would lead to religious beliefs which you are against. A bit of a catch-22.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  15. Why so serious?

    A muslim women representing a western country!?!? THIS IS BLASPHEMY!!! Maybe another burning of the Quran is in order here.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  16. NoPunIntended

    "She" looks like a tranny...

    April 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  17. Parkerman

    People are natually afraid of a movement that may change their way of life. In a democracy we all believe that everyone should have the freedom to be or do what they want, but our laws and way of life could change if a majority of muslims vote and become politicians in a certain country. Even though they may believe in freedom their views and way of life will find their way into our laws and if they are the majority you will find your way of life changing. I don't blame people for being nervous.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  18. DisgruntledGrrl

    Seems to me if we backtrace every threat and kill THEM – then we'd clean up the world pretty well. So what if a few trolls get wiped out in the process.
    I mean decrease the surplus population.
    Get rid of those fanatics that bring a bad name to their respective religions.
    Wipe a couple of dysfunctional crazies..
    And some trolls learn there are consequences to their actions.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Jpgard

      It's become painfully obvious that violence begets more violence. Especially when you are dealing with fanatics. Fanatics cannot be convinced or cajoled as they are completely devoted to their view on a particular subject. The only way to combat this kind of ignorance is to educate our youth and teach them tolerance. That's how most of these fringe groups work. They recruit their followers at an early age, before they can form their own opinion. We have to be proactive or they will keep spreading their message of hate and violence.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • DisgruntledGrrl

      Oh I know, Jpgard, but taking the high road lately seems to only be giving us nosebleeds.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Bongo

    I don't get it, she is hideous looking. I thought Ms. UK had to at least be attractive...

    April 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • opinion

      No, you don't get it, how old are you? 15?

      April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • sam

      You must not like girls, then.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Tom

      Whats wrong with you? Are you gay???

      April 15, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  20. fgf

    Ignore these stupid people, Shana. I'm a muslim girl – do whatever you want. Those laws to cover up had cultural relevance in Saudi Arabia 1400+ years ago. They dont apply today.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Objectively

      Thank you! I wish all the other muslims reason like you do. Times have changed.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • hamza

      you just have a muslim name,maybe,but you are certainly not a muslim.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Nocordoba

      I understand that everyone should have the freedom of religion. But there are people who beleive the same thing you do who drive planes into building because of what they beleive. I can understand people who are scared around or even hate people who say they are of that religion. I mean how are we suppose to distinguish between which ones beleive that and which ones don't.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Huwbacca

      @hamza i have lived with muslims for some time now, and i can without any fear of possibly feeling wrong. You sir, appear to have the message wrong. Have fun with your goodwill to others and progression of your faith through learning.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:03 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.