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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. Kirk

    Her beauty puts most white women to shame! Yes, I'm white too!

    April 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      What a strange thing to say. Anyway it's hard to tell with all that warpaint on. Way too much goop around her eyes.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  2. Reverend Jim

    Beauty contest shallowness aside, it's no one business but hers. Keep your religious paws off my (and her) freedom.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  3. Phil in Oregon

    I'm still amazed that extremists in Pakistan can call for the murder of an English woman because she wasn't as Muslim as they are. The more I hear about the Muslims, the more I like Christians.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  4. JILNK06

    "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. "

    - Jesus (Luke 6:37)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • chris dobbs

      shut up.....no one cares what you think. take your little guy out of your hand....you're cutting off blood flow to your brain....i love u 2, chris

      April 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  5. Mr Juice

    That's it? That is a beauty queen?

    April 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  6. getalife.com

    I love her eyebrows! You go girly. Such a shame people can get so bent out of shape over the most idiotic things. This whole world is going to "hell" in a hand basket.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  7. Youtubegod

    She looks like a skinner version of snooki. haha.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  8. Andrew

    How long are we supposed to look at this plain looking woman on the CNN front page, presented to us for days as a "beauty queen"? But since this fits with the CNN's ongoing theme of Muslims as the victims of everything that is going on in world, this non-story gets the full blown coverage on par with the Libya war.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  9. jimzcarz

    She's wearing enough make-up to frost a 10lb cake. I really don't see the beauty in that.
    But then again I'm tall, skinny, ugly, and I got red hair so who am I to talk.
    But that's why I play drums and don't enter beauty contests.
    Anyway the whole Muslim hypocrisy is rather amusing hope she lives through it.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Yuch

      LOL yes I think her eyeshadow is a worse crime than anything.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  10. PJ

    Beautiful Arab women are few and far between, so they should treasure this lady.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • chris dobbs

      amen brother

      April 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  11. yh8?

    They don't want her running b/c she would probably win.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  12. Antonio in Phoenix

    Brits are some ugly people. She should win easily.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  13. Ames

    Poor woman can't get a break from either side. Let her be a pageant contestant for cryin' out loud. I don't like Islam, just like I don't like other religions or the fanatics that follow them...but anyone who condemns this woman for something so benign as a pageant needs to have their heads examined.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  14. Frank

    No school of Islam allows the kind of female objectivism as this girl is engaging in. Let's hope no cleric declares her an apostate (as every school of Islam proscribes death for apostasy)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  15. yoyo

    she looks good. her religion is her religion none of us have a heaven or hell to put her in..butt wheeeeewwwwww she can get it.lmao

    April 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  16. Demsareracist

    Next to democrats, Musl ims are the most racest people that never get called on it.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      Oh please, every racist I've ever met has been a Republican. Why do you think most(?) blacks are Democrats? Civil Rights bro, the Dems led the way!

      April 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Linda

      The fact that you can't spell racist, probably exposes your lack of intelligence, but let me point it out for you: Democrats? Are you serious???? I think you must not be from the U.S.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Demsareracist

      Dems created the KKK. what are you talking about? Study your history.. The dems were the one that fought civil rights untill the mid to late 60"s. Then they learned how to manipulate the races, and they have been using them ever since.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Demsareracist

      See they always get a pass..

      April 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Common Sense

      The parties don't quite have the same platforms as they used to. The parties as they exist today changed form a hundred years ago. We don't call people carpet baggers anymore either lol. Today the republican party is the party of the rich and conservative, it doesn't matter what they stood for 100 years ago.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Ralph

      PaddingtonPoohBear: yes, that's why Abraham Lincoln (a Republican) fought the Civil War and Republicans were the driving force for Civil Rights Legislation in the 1960s, they're all racists....and I guess you don't stereotype and are not in the least a bigot, based on your comment. BTW, did you know that Democrats ruled the South during Jim Crow?

      April 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Know your history

      It was the Southern Democrats that supported the KKK. What you seem to forget/not know is that during the 1970s the Southern Democrats were forced out of the party and eventually switched to the Republican Party. Those racists Democrats that you are talking about are now Republicans. It was Richard Nixon that used race as a means to polarize the south in order to get their votes. You obviously do not know U.S. History very well.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • chris dobbs

      hey...thanks for the 8 years of "w"....how soon we forget his ignorance...oh wait....you just reminded me.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Right on! @know your history The southern dems are now republicans. The same rich old white dudes who didn't want black people to have rights in their states, were no longer allowed in the dem party moved to republican and now they are the same old rich white dudes who still don't like change. You can spot them with their cigars and pot bellys.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Demsareracist

      So, I guess you have proved the point.. Mus-lim racist get a pass all the while you are saying everything yuou can to give the Dems a pass. They left the democratic party to join the republican party. LOL Robert Byrd didn't, did he??

      Dems are racist in the truest sense of the word; Dems always think they are superior to us and we can’t do it without their help.
      As a Black man, I dont need your help. I can work and raise my family without you.

      April 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      @ Ralph Yes, Lincoln was a Republican. So what caused so many blacks to switch from the party of "The Great Emancipator" to the Democrats? I'm no Civil Rights expert but the legislation seems to have been introduced by a Dem and later signed into law by a Dem.

      @ Demsareracist You're obviously a white Republican. Your ploy to sound like an insulted black person is laughable...

      April 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  17. Capt. CB

    This young lady should have not tried to promote Islam with her desire to be in the pageant. Any true Muslim will not participate in these things. They are contrary to Muslim beliefs. I do not agree with the Muslim faith but then I do not agree with many other religious sects either. Be that as it may; I would reccommend she give up one or the other. Be a true Muslim and quit the pageant; or continue in the pageant and denounce her faith. She can't have her cake and eat it too. Unfortunately for her the Muslim befliefs are contrary to her hearts desire. The media also needs to recognize things like this for what they are and quit broadcasting the whims of those who want to stand for opposing factions. If she were a "sloppy christian" or athiest she would be comfortable in a pageant scantily dressed. If she chose to be a "True Christian" with the morals of the bible in hand she would not participate in a pageant either. So, young lady, you decide and do not torture the populace with your personal inablility to decide.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Radical Muslim

      but that's the beauty of living in free societies... you can have your cake and eat it too.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • kamal

      There is no true muslim belief neither christin belief, because there are so many sects in either religion and each one preaching true. This is her life and she gets to decide what she wants. Why people think they are somehow responsible for her.They should mind their own bussiness. Those people are not going to do anything for her.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Josh

      I disagree. There are forms of Islam, just as there are forms of Christianity. An educated, moderate, peaceful Muslim has every right to do this, just as a moderate Christian can dance (there are still some Christian denominations that condemn dancing, believe it or not). Just as most followers of Jesus Christ have finally gotten the message that violence, killing and hurting others is a sin and against the teachings of Jesus Christ, many educated and true Muslims also condemn violence, killing and hurting others, as this goes against most of the teachings of Mohammed. I say, "go girl" and pursue your dreams.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  18. mm

    She needs to remove that horror movie eye makeup.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • svscnn

      It's the new style – IslamiGoth. Jeesh, get with the times. 😉

      April 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Pacoatemiami

      The go overboard with everything under those burkas. Caked on make up... the most ostentatious handbag they can find... they swim in obnoxious perfume. It is probably a good thing they keep themselves covered. The world would mock them otherwise.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  19. hans

    what a bunch of crap, why not embrace beauty and enjoy it, but it seems that for the islam religion it is okay to kill and murder in the name if god, but it is not okay to enjoy the beauty given by god, such double standard.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  20. Rebecca

    Why are we overlooking the REAL issue at hand here: The Miss Universe pageant is allowing this woman and her unfortunate eyebrows to compete in their pageant? Really?

    April 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
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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.