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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. Hussam

    Asalamo Alykum Wa Rahmatoh Allah Wa Barakatoh, BismAllah,
    I've tried to read all the comments; however it became painfuly obvious after the first 20 or so, that most commentators are writing these either out of anger, hatred, or just plain lack of knowledge. Desperately missing is a lack of understanding for others and their cultures. In this case it's quite simple. In islam, a religion she chooses to be a part of, tells her in very clear terms that what she is doing is wrong, very wrong matter of fact. This has nothing to do with what you each think is right or wrong. And small side note here, speaking of women's rights, please check your histories, women's rights were nonexistant before Islam. So basic points are. 1. she is a woman participating in a beauty pagent.2. she happens to be a muslim.3 her religion has nothing to do with the pagent.chosing to be a muslim tells her what she is doing is absolutely wrong.4 she still chose to do it.5. it's None of any of our businesses, so to quote a peaceful non-muslim LET IT BE! LET IT BE!

    April 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Yonah

      All the major religions infringe on women's rights in some way. To suggest Islam is any different is nothing but delusional propaganda. Religion retards the progress of humanity.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  2. Albert Einstone

    What a total hottie. Win one for the gipper.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • orange_krush

      Who cares??
      It's a beauty contest for crying out loud. Not a religion contest.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  3. OldGoat

    Surely the UK could find someone more representative of British culture.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  4. turnagainoutlaw

    Sad, another beautiful woman afraid to express herself because of a backward, narrow-minded religion.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Newyorker

      It is hate mail from so-called white English people that seems to be the bigger problem here, not the minority of opinion from the Muslim community in the UK. Try reading the whole article next time before posting.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  5. Raif

    i don't mind that she's representing the U.K. I do mind her being unattractive.... it actually makes me angry.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  6. Roscoe Chait

    Wait a minute... So we complain if Muslim women wear burqas or hide their faces. And when a Muslim woman wants to act in a Western way and enter a beauty contest, we complain because she's not wearing a burqa and hiding her face.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  7. dean

    She is creating her own religion. Miss England, read what is your religion about. You can do charity and other services without showing your body in Bikini. Now you tell me are you muslim?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  8. Amanda

    I don't see why she doesn't want to wear a bikini. Bikinis are part of Western culture. It's a fashion trend as well. It doesn't seem like she really wants to represent Britain to the full. In any case, I do wish her the best of luck 🙂

    April 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  9. francisco medina

    hehehe, oh religions !!! crazy people, i'm from the caribbean: Dominican Republic, i invite this hot and beautiful mami to my homeland, we got the nicest beaches of the world, warm weather, happy people, nice food, and most important: WE FOCUS IN THE PEOPLE, NOT IN THE CRAZY RELIGIONS. Come to me baby, and you will be the happiest girl alive on earth.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  10. Sybaris

    It never ceases to amaze me how people volunteer to participate in activities then whine about the consequences.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  11. Ted Ward

    What? No bacha bazi boys in this contest?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  12. fndougie

    I'd hit it

    April 15, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  13. Bake

    NO people under ANY religion should ever force others to do something based on their own beliefs. Her faith is her own and she should be able to make her own decisions.
    Frankly, the HATRED that Muslims show to her is far worse than the "sin" they say she is partaking in. When will anger and ridicule ever persuade another into believing what you want them to?

    April 15, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  14. Istrt

    I don't wanna sound rude or offense but I would support her if she was actually 'pretty'.

    And Rima please, talk when you give up booze, bikini parties and all the swearing. Disgusting.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  15. Her "religion" has nothing to do with this.

    Technically, half-naked women parading around in swimsuits is against Christian and Jewish beliefs, as well. All religions require modesty from women. But for some reason, it's culturally acceptable to be a "fair-weather" Jew or a "non-practising Catholic," or "raised" Baptist. No one would dare to bring up the religious background of the other contestants. Leave the girl alone hypocrites.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  16. Lane

    regardless of her nationality ..she's still ugly !

    April 15, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  17. dave

    Her life is in danger from the beliefs of Islam.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  18. FML

    WTH....if she makes it...I certainly will not look at the UK the same again. I have nothing against Muslims but every country should be represented by a person who comes from the countries culture...Hell it could even be a black UK person...but at least its someone from a long line of UK decent...she clearly is not. I'm from Bolivia and if we had a white American representing us I would be furious. That's not what my culture is made up of! This is a matter of culture.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • tom

      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 11:26 am |
    • outtahere2010

      Are you serious? She was born and raised in the United Kingdom, in the British educational system, and absorbing British culture and values simply by being a part of the world around her since the day she was born. She obviously identifies herself as originating from the United Kingdom, and lives her life as such. She's as British as Fish and Chips – leave her be.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  19. Joe

    Shut up about being muslim...go on to whatever building you go to on Sunday or whatever day...practice but shut up about it and do what the hell you want to with the rest of your life....that way, CNN and everyone else wont be knocking at your door all the bloody time, AND you wont get death threats from those that seriously want to do harm. Being outspoken about Muslim and beauty contests does nothing but put a target on your back

    April 15, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  20. Enlightened

    The fundamentalist Muslims who object to this beautiful girl participating in a beauty contest have no grasp on reality. The ones objectifying women are these so called religious people. In the free world no one forces women to compete in a beauty contest, it is their choice. In fundamentalist muslim countries women have few choices with regard to their lives. For that matter in Saudi Arabia, women can not even be alone in public without a male family member, and they are forbidden from driving. They put their women under burkas and veils and treat them like chattel. So insecure are they of their own self that they fear other men gazing upon their women. Time to get over it, hiding the beauty of women makes the world a dark and dreary place. Personally I have no problem with other men admiring my women. She is amazingly beautiful and her presence lights up a room.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Not English

      and what about the English who are protesting her too?

      April 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
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About this blog

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.