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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. ali

    Are you ff'ing kidding me? If this ugly woman get voted Miss Universe I will hang myself!

    April 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  2. dike

    I wonder how many wives the bald guy has for himself in burah...

    April 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  3. Ali

    Why not have beauty contest for men? Why only women have to expose thier bodies by wearing mini skirts,bikinis? Isn't it unfair that men don't do the same as women if they talk about gender equality?

    April 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Sharon

      yikes!! Don't think I want to see that.

      April 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Muneef

      Ali.
      It is there but in different ways maybe like heavy weight championship or wrestlers but not as beauty king....
      For there mightbe some beauty contest although not for Men but possibly for G-aymen

      April 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  4. josh

    I'm Muslim. Feel bad for me. 😦

    April 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Hee-Haw!

      Gloom, despair and agony on me.
      Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
      If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all,
      Gloom, despair and agony on me.

      April 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  5. whocares

    She can do what she wants to. Conservative muslims need to live and let live. If conservative muslims want to be accepted in todays society, then they need to accept other types of muslims too. You dont need to accept it but you dont need to be anti it. As a muslim, i am embarrassed when i read such stories. As for her winning Miss Universe, that aent happening (not because of her religion, but because of her looks, or lack there off) 🙂

    April 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  6. Deedz

    she said. "Pageants like this are happening in Muslim countries as well." Well, maybe she should compete in a muslim country....I don't see a blond, blue eyed british girl being able to compete in a muslim country. what can I say.
    Really CNN! You think this is news worthy?

    April 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Chris

      ridiculous analogy. There are simply no blonde blue eyed anglo-saxon women living in the Islamic world that are citizens of those countries. There are blonde arab girls with blue eyes that compete. or even in Afghanistan, of course you wouldn't call them white even if they had european features. This woman is British, she was born in the UK and studied English literature.

      April 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  7. whocares

    She can do what she wants to. Conservative muslims need to live and let live. If conservative muslims want to be accepted in todays society, then they need to accept other types of muslims too. You dont need to accept it but you dont need to be anti it. As a muslim, i am embarrassed when i read such stories. As for her winning Miss Universe, that aent happening (not because of her religion, but because of her looks, or lack there off) 🙂

    April 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Deedz

      you mean lack therof!

      April 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  8. Becca

    Why continue to chat over this woman? This was on yesterday.I do not think she is pretty at all, mainly because of all that eye make up.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Sharon

      I think that you missed the point and that you are shallow. Go back to sleep and check back in tomorrow...

      April 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  9. Tanzil

    Every human has its rights to do anything with his or her own knowledge. As far I know my religion Islam does not oppose that. All mankind has given power to make their own judgment and decision and Islam does not force anyone to obey or to force anyone to become Muslim. Koran and hadis is knowledge and information with our power and knowledge we should understand the beauty of Islam and its logic behind it. True way to become Muslim if you willing to submission yourself to Allah and truly understand Islamic way of living.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Muneef

    More Women Than Men in Hell?
    http://www.onislam.net/english/component/content/article/2278/451661.html

    April 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  11. dike

    Well give up your religion and become a Buddhist or something and compete, that will keep you safe and free from the butchers..

    April 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  12. Gary

    Why are there so many sick people in this world?

    April 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  13. Kamasuthra

    For Unknown Carnal Knowledge only muslim men uses women.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Sharon

      Really. And was does that mean?

      April 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  14. meemee

    The issue at hand is not human rights or women's rights. The issue is whether a non-British UK national should represent the British people in a contest that is about appearance. The Labour Party in the UK has worked to undermine the notion of a white Anglo-Saxon England for the sake of frustrating conservatives – that's been admitted. No one should be threatened or harmed in a civilized country. But the people responsible for this problem as the ones who have been plotting to turn England into Brazil for decades now. I think she'd be a fantastic representative for her original ethnic, racial, cultural nation. The left wants a non-white there so that they can bait the indigenous Brits and call them "racist" and other names while pushing a one world socialist agenda forward.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Sharon

      Just like in the US, there are alot of immigrants in England. That said, what does the typical British woman look like? Is it Kate Middleton? Someone with red hair and green eyes, perhaps, like a "typical" Irish woman. Or maybe someone looking like the typical Welsh woman–whatever that might be? My poinjt is that if someone is a citizen, they should be able to represent their country.

      April 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Johnny

    I didn't think parents who are first cousins could make a decent looking woman.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Sharon

      And how is that relevant to the topic at hand? How good-looking you personally think she is is not really the point, is it?

      April 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • DPhoenix

      I'm actually pretty sure that there's more incest in West Virginia than there is in the hundreds of millions of Muslim families in the world.

      April 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  16. Muneef

    Strange that I had received this link that leads to other links that speak about Women in Islam...might be found very interesting to read about it as maybe only then you would become to know more about the women and their men in Islam...hope you if had interest being a Muslim or Non Muslim find same useful as in general knowledge ;

    http://www.onislam.net/english/component/content/article/2278/451661.html

    April 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  17. Angus Young

    My cat's breath smells like cat food

    April 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Nichole

      Weird, so does mine....

      April 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Izzo

      I bent my wookie...

      April 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  18. Sharon

    I always thaought the purspose of religion was to help us to love our fellow man and to treat others as we would like to be treated. Tell me how dictating the way someone dresses does that. A woman could be the most modest woman in the universe and still treat people like crap! And so that makes her righteous?? That this Muslim woman wants to compete in beauty pageants (and dress modestly by most standards) is irrelevant to her being a good Muslim. She's probably a better Muslim (in my mind) than those who hide behind their religion to go around hating others for their beliefs. True religion has nothing to do with judgement and hatred. It has everything to do with joy and peace and goodwill. Let her be!

    April 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  19. Vix

    Forget about religion – she's too ugly to compete.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Gary

      Go crawl back under your rock.

      April 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • MSfromCA

      Congratulations – I assume that means you are better looking? Or perhaps your significant other? No!? Jealous, perhaps?

      April 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • mycatsbreathsmellslikecatfood

      im with you on this one, Vix.

      she really isnt all that attractive...especially for a beauty pagent

      April 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • rickyd

      So, I would say shes not all that either.

      April 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Chris

      Who cares if shes Muslim or anything esle for that matter. I'm just happy that atleast she's not complaining that they didnt let her compete wearing a hijab. I wouldnt be surprised if someone cried discrimination over that issue.

      April 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Sharon

      But the point of the article isn't really what you think about her looks, is it? Or did I miss the memo that this is really all about you?

      April 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • MK

      enough already with this B.S! this shouldn't be a headline ... so what if she is a muslim ! all the noise is because her culture not her religion. go and visit most of the arab and muslim counties, you'll see more western clothing, social life than you expect.

      April 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  20. Whatever

    I never thought it'd be possible, but she's even trashier looking that that American raghead that was Miss USA last year. She may even be trashier than Danielle Staub. That's quite an accomplishment.

    April 15, 2011 at 3:17 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.