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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. Jose M. Pulido

    Islam is a stupid and violent ideology, not a rleigion approved by God. She should do whatever she wants to do instead of pleaseing those Islamic terrorist mysoginist males.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      Religion is. Religion. OK?

      OK! 😀

      April 19, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  2. John

    I would declare jihad on her booty.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  3. Jon

    It needs to be pointed out too....more as a reminder than for any other reason....that Rima won Miss Universe ONLY because Morgan Woolard answered her silly pageant question in a manner that offended the slightly "light in the loafers" panel of judges. Her beliefs were Christian beliefs and had they not been she would have won Miss USA without a ruffle.

    I have a novel idea: Let these women participate in beauty pageants and force the judges to make their decisions simply upon their talent and their beauty.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  4. ASh

    She is cute...but she has WAAAAAAy too much make-up on..the make-up makes her look older..

    April 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  5. Abba-Dabba

    So....many Muslims want here dead. Everyone else just thinks she's dirty, not white, then move on.

    Moral equivalence there? NOPE. Like Bill Maher says, Islam is the ONLY religion around TODAY that will kill you for not agreeing with them.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  6. Denizen Kate

    Didn't we have this story last week or the week before? If beauty contests really mean anything, first off, who can tell what she looks like with all that makeup around her eyes? I'm also reminded of a line Michael Caine had in the movie "Miss Congeniality" - "Eyebrows. There should be two."

    April 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  7. JR

    SHE LOOKS LIKE A CLOWN WITH ALL THE MAKE UP.............WHATS THE WORLD COMING TOO..............

    April 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  8. Jon

    Muslim men....you gotta love 'em. Here we have Shafig saying that Islam requires muslim women to dress modestly and guard their modesty but the men can go off and have at it with little boys, or little girls or little donkeys or what ever turns 'em on at the moment. Allah be praised, of course.

    Know what I think? I think that 99.99999% of muslim men are so s3xually repressed that any idea of a woman doing or dressing or hooking up as she pleases is an immediate excuse to drag in all that religious dogma and accuse her of all manner of evil. It's too much for them to deal with and the only way to handle it is to persecute the gal. Then of course the fellas all run off to a nice quiet place to think about it and have a mental go at it with her. We all know what I mean....

    April 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      "...the men can go off and have at it with little boys, or little girls or little donkeys or what ever turns 'em on at the moment."

      You mean like rednecks?

      HAHAHAHA! Holy cow! These comments are cracking me up!

      April 19, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  9. sasa

    i think she played the religion card too just for attention... and personally i think she needed it lol, i mean she is pretty but ive definitely seen much prettier pakistani women..

    April 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  10. Ann Marie Lynch

    She isn't that good looking. And she's kinda fat. She's using this media to purposely push for her to win. She's created a situation where she is pressing the judges, if she doesn't win she claims that she was discriminated against. But the truth is she just isn't that good looking.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • inyourhead00

      If you think she's fat then you seriously need to check your eyes. Get a pair of glasses! Look at her Facebook photos and you'll see that she looks much better w/o all that (ugly) makeup on and that she's nowhere near fat.

      April 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      AHAHAHAHA. Jealous much?

      HAHAHAHAHAHA! You comment almost makes me embarrassed to be a woman. 😀

      April 19, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. R

    She's not even pretty which means she'll win the crown thanks to mindless liberalism.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • asz

      Wow. Impressive. Bashing liberals...I haven't heard that before. Is this something that only pedophiles think or do more people hate liberals than that?

      April 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  12. Richard

    Haifa Wehbe is a perfect example of hot Muslim, this girl isn't ugly, but she isn't pretty either.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  13. inyourhead00

    Oh my, she really needs to take off all of that makeup. It looks hideous! She would look much more attractive if she used less of it or maybe even went natural...
    All that makeup doesn't make her model material!

    As for her religion, other people brought it up. She's not the one shoving it down their throats, so they need to let her be. Ignorance is truly dangerous! And none of us know what kind of a Muslim she is; only God knows what's in her heart and how strong of a believer she is, so people please – drop that judgmental nonsense.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  14. Denvercherub

    How'd they get her mask off?

    April 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  15. Chris

    She's over 13 years old, why would any Muslim man want her?

    April 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • asz

      He does need someone to smack around.

      April 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Prince Of Wales

      Bee-keeper?

      April 15, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  16. Baman

    She deserves to be miss universe about as much as obama deserved the peace prize.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Jobu

      Did he???

      April 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  17. AG

    As a muslim I just wanna put this out there.... "I wanna be on you..."

    April 14, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  18. Tom C

    No offense... but there are MILLIONS of middle-eastern women better lookin' than this lady. Look at Sahar Biniaz, holy god. I'm an atheist but I'd recite the Shahada for her.

    I think this lady is trying to wave the religion card in hopes of winning.

    April 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Sheepleherder

      Got to admit, you have good taste.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • muslim woman

      I am an atheist but I will recite the shahdah for her... LOL.....

      April 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  19. American Rebel

    I'd say who cares but ugly won't win...

    April 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      Are you blind? That woman is beyond gorgeous.

      April 19, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  20. WanTan

    Looks like Snookie....

    April 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Elaine

      Yes, it is time to play the political correctness game and let a Muslim woman with heavy black soot applied over her eye lids win. Well done !! and the hell with beauty because all that counts these days is pleasing anybody provided that they are not white.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:15 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.