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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. mike arif

    islam does'nt gives anybody the authority to kill any one i being a muslim withstand those people who r against her its keep up the good work, if there are muslims against u then alot of em are with u too

    April 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  2. XoXo)

    why the heck she is in news... she is not even good looking...
    I almost puked

    April 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  3. Gulistan

    Miss Universe hopeful? good luck to her but she does not have it to be Miss Universe. Average looking at best and does not look smart, I say its a publicity stunt. If anyone is made at her is because they don't want her to associate herself with the contest because its disrespectful to other contestants. Jesus, she can't even ware makeup.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  4. Mick

    Wow, the politically correct gang must have put her in this position. She is not even attractive. She couldn't win a local contest in Podunk, Iowa, let alone Miss Universe.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  5. Samia Taleb

    Dear to whom it may concern: I believe Shanna Bukari should be miss England . I watch Rima Fakki on TV at Mon. nights. On tough enough. I'm glad to see an American muslim female,finally succeed in a high standing position. I'm proud of her.I don,t like the stereotypes the muslim community has on woman. We're living in a different time a new century,not in the stone ages.The muslim community should give up these strict standards. yours truly,American-Arab mom at CA.,U.S.A

    April 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  6. Casual Observer

    I hope she wins – not because sh e is smokin' hot – but if she wins she is going to flush out those elements of Islam that everyone should condemn. At best Islam is a fractured and dysfunctional religion trapped in a 8th century mentality with as many varied interpretations as there are radical sects within it. Who is their leader? Who guides Muslims in the modern world? Obviously it is not Allah and the Koran – the real spirit of both was lost centuries ago.
    It certainly has it's good points – taken from early Christianity and Jewish texts – and it has a reasonable moral message.
    If her representing England – and to a degree herself on the world stage – disturbs any Muslims then they need to address their own internal jihad and ask why?? Certainly Allah has more important things to worry about – like all the radical Muslims that are misrepresenting Islam. Let's hope she wins !!!

    April 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  7. hhv94

    I doubt she'd make the cut to represent the UK but regardless other religious fanatics need to back off and leave the girl alone.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      Hehehe... Compare her to other British folk and then you'll see why she is up there. :p

      April 19, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  8. Amber

    I don't understand why everyone is saying she's not pretty. She's gorgeous..all the make-up is a little ridiculous looking, but she is still very pretty! And instead of criticizing her looks, you people should be giving her props for standing up and doing what she loves, even if it means she gets death threats, hate mail, and criticism. No wonder women have such self esteem issues these days when all we can do is pick apart things!

    April 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  9. jo

    wow. lots of caked-on makeup to hide the zits

    April 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  10. NorthbyNorthwest

    Dude looks like a lady.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  11. G. R.R.

    That is sad if UK is treating her that shabby. She is a beautiful looking young women. Good luck to you.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  12. Unknown

    It's a sad world we live in when we cannot even do beauty contests without death threats. I'm not talking only to the Muslims that are threatening her, I'm talking to EVERYONE!

    April 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  13. WCMoore

    Well that and then there is the fact that the Qur'an doesn't tell you to cover anything.
    Which is why its illegal to were a cover in many more Muslim Nations then it is required in.
    In facts its only required in two country's.

    The covering of faces is much more a Cultural thing then a religious one.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  14. Paul lytle

    "elect a muslim" Embrace sharia law

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

      Get over yourself, please.

      April 19, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  15. Brandon

    I would like to say that she is unattractive but I will not because then I would obviously be considered racist even though I just think shes ugly.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • standingwave

      Wouldn't call you rascist but I would question your taste.Oh well,beauty is in the eye...

      April 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Brandon

      Im just not a tranny chaser.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  16. truthinrock

    Hate and threats from the faithful of all organized religions?! Say it isn't so.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Boocap

      That's how religion goes, believe what i do or I'll hurt you

      April 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  17. Muneef

    How can she be a Muslim if she does not listen to the Quran as to what to wear and where to cover?

    She must be a Muslim born but not a Muslim as in faith... Such case she should not claim of being a Muslim...

    April 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Brandon

      Thats like saying you are not a Christian if you do not go to church every sunday, there are variations.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Xugos

      It's my understanding that you "can't be a muslim" if you judge others, too.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Roy

      If you don't practice the religion, follow the rules of the religion, you are not that religion. Doesn't matter if you were born into it or not. You can not be a non-practicing Catholic or Muslim, these are not ethnic groups, they are faith based religions. You either have the faith, or not. Unlike being Jewish which is both an ethnic group and religious group. If she does not follow the tenets of Islam, she isn't Muslim.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Muneef

      Brandon.

      No not that it is nothing to do about going to Church on Sunday nor it is about going to Mosque on Friday....it is more about the Holy Book commands as what to do or not to do.... But now that I listened to her few words I heard her saying she believes in her self...and that means that is her belief and not Islam.

      Any way now she got her self in a mess and only God knows how she will get out of it speacially when it comes to extremests and media...if she goes on with it she might face the same luck of the cartoonists...and if she thinks about converting in to another religion she will face death...

      Just wonder what sort of beauty she has?? I did not see in her any beauty that my eyes would love to see, am sure the choice made on her just for the purpose of this is towards causing further hurt to islam and Muslims.
      After all I am not seeing what all the fuss is for since if you go to Egypt for example there are belly dancers as well consider them selves Muslims and I think this women is taking one of them as an example when she spoke about charity since one of these Egyptian belly dancers is very famous for her belly dance and among the richest and became to undertake charity work towards orphans...just forgot her name now....

      April 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • MJ

      No where in the Quran does it mention how a woman should dress, except it's recommended that all dress modestly. Various Hadith have multiple opinions about what women should wear (from headscarf to burka). It's just that though– opinion. Of course, most Hadith have very good advice, but the only word of God is that of the Quran. Hadith is written by man, and is based on opinions of man, and holds no water vs. that of the Quran.

      Learn a bit of your own religion before condemning others.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Muneef

      The beauty contest needs her to do all that told not to do in this verse;
      Al-Noor sura 24:
      Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. (30) And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed. (31).

      April 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      I could swear I remember a line in the hadith mentioning that judging another in any manner, especially in regards to one's relationship with God and society, is not acceptable.

      How about you refrain from that and let her have her worship how she pleases. Okee Dokee? 🙂

      Represent your religion properly and be at peace with the world around you.

      April 19, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  18. Terry Brookman

    Some AH will probably cut her nose and ears off or kill her

    April 14, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  19. Mario G

    she's not super good looking... I don't understand all the buzz around her, there's a lot of women who are a lot prettier than her, I really don't get it, I see more attractive women every day in the subway

    April 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • DYBO

      It looks like a pound of make up does not help her.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  20. Silly Article

    Not News worthy....Muslim, Christian, Atheist...she's just not that hot.....If she's Miss UK, then clearly they are hurtin' in the looks department.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Brandon

      thats what I was thinking, probably was never an issue until the news media made it an issue.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Lola

      Yep, to shout about discrimination is a new way to get famous, if you can't excel otherwise.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Xugos

      I am a Muslim and I agree. I don't know why the news media keeps putting muslims back into the spotlight unnecessarily so much as of late.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Jeffretouch

      Interesting that the worst threats, according to Shanna, come from other members of "the religion of peace", namely Islamists.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • alex208

      have you been to UK? They are hurting in the looks department!

      April 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • SS

      She's still covering up for her fellow Muslims–and they're really the ones who are threatening her with death. it's not the Christians, not the atheists, not the anyone else. Guarantee the majority threatening her are very devout male Muslims–and the ones most likely to do something to her. She needs protection like Salman Rushdie does.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • HappyyppaH

      I would have to agree with Alex. Your run of the mill English lad or lady is really quite hideous.

      Sad stuff.

      Truth hurts.

      April 19, 2011 at 10:04 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.