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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. ellen

    what's with those eyebrows? She is far from attractive if that's what wins the pageant then she won't.I mean it's not about brains or religion it's about beauty and she's far from it

    April 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  2. sue

    I am never going to understand mankind, I am afraid

    April 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  3. Nancy

    beauty queen "under fire" unfortunate choice of words CNN, considering radicals have said she deserves to die.

    April 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  4. rick

    in any religion this girl is UGLY!!

    April 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  5. JILNK06

    "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18)

    April 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  6. mike

    I have no issues with a muslim or whoever does this. But my issue is she is ugly! So I think she is using this to cover that up and get some cheap publicity.

    April 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  7. Sam

    She is just trying to gain sympathy and get chose based on sympathy rather than Beauty. My problem with her is that she is B*** Ugly.

    She is just a foul player

    April 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  8. rick

    Are these the right pictures with this story? Because that girl is not very attractive at all...

    April 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  9. UnderstandingTeacher

    We need more 'fihm' in this world.

    Wishing you the best in your endeavors.

    http://www.understandingcampaign.org

    April 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  10. JILNK06

    Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD is LOVE. (1 John 4:8)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  11. g

    i want to have s8x with hurr!!

    April 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  12. Islam Retard

    She is a beautiful Muslim. Just leave Islam and leave those retarded people behind. Then they will try to kill her for leaving Islam. Being a Muslims sucks! They condemn you for being beautiful.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • meh

      No we dont. I would gladly date your sister/daughter (of legal age) if they are half as cute as this woman:)

      April 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • don't hide truth

      that is correct, that's why they force their women to hide their faces!

      April 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  13. MASS4CHANGE

    Shanna Bukhari will you marry me?

    April 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  14. MASS4CHANGE

    I love her.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  15. George

    Looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. If she wins any beauty contest, it'll be because of the sympathy vote or political correctness run amok. The other contestants at the Miss Universe pageant would have nothing to worry about from the UK, if she gets the national crown.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • jumanji

      The real controversy here is that she happens to be an unattractive Muslim woman that may make it all the way to Ms. Universe. I've seen better looking middle eastern women than that. She's no beauty queen.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • don't hide truth

      she is a beautiful woman...beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Muslim women are very pretty, it is just that some people think pretty only comes white and blond..speak of being polarized!

      April 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  16. JILNK06

    "...You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' - Jesus (Matthew 22:37–39)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  17. Kim

    You people are a joke; I can't believe how immature you all are. Beauty is beauty, regardless of religion. *Who* *Cares*? So, what–woman now have to have a certain religion to enter a beauty pageant? This is very offensive. She has a right to do what she wants.

    This is her religion. She's proud of it. Beauty pageants have NOTHING to do with religion. Hey, it's nice that there will be atleast one woman who isn't a bottle blonde mirror image of all the others.

    Good luck, girl!

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

      She justs wants publicity, I bet she never got any threats. A couple of years ago, an Afghan/British girl (her parents are from Afghanistan) represented England in Ms. World. Although she didn't win, she didn't have any problems because of her religion. This one just wants some sympathy, thats all!

      April 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  18. JILNK06

    "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." (Proverbs 10:12)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  19. Dood

    She seems like a fine representative for them (the UK or England or whomever she's representing).

    April 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Jim

      I agree, We do not always believe in our leaders, politicians, or for that fact mothers and fathers. But we learn to understand them as individuals, as people and as being human. Did she stray from the course to stir some feelings, yes, but if that was the case then applying the same response- we might as well go back to the crusades. I say embrace this individual, learn to understand and how to be ok. why, is there millions of practicing muslims and isamists outside of the middle east but only hundreds practing any other relegion in the middle east? The more I see the passion of the hardline islamists and muslims oppressing those who chose a different path- the closer i see the relationship to North Korea and those governing in Burma.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Pete Samson

      They should send that beauty, Prince Charles to represent Britain. You know what they say about British women and their beauty.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  20. JILNK06

    "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." - Jesus (Matthew 6:14-16)

    April 15, 2011 at 1:43 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.