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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. awetmedic

    The CNN comment moderator stiffles comments much worse than Disqus on Fox. Free speech will pull people from the riight if they can find it here. Having a more difficult system to express opinion, stiffles it. A stiffled opinion, the worst enemy of news.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  2. Amanda

    There is no compulsion in religion, says the Quran. If she said she's a Muslim, she is.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Muneef

      Amanda.
      With all due respect I thought the verse you quoted meant that we are not to compel a non Muslim to become Muslim...

      You remember that saying " If you are in Roma do what the Romans do".... Well the same applies with Islam and goes as that "if you are a Muslim do what the Muslim do".....!?

      April 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  3. Angel

    It's funny how whenever religion is bought into any topic, there is soo much hate spewed out by people! Religion is supposed help people get closer to their God and have a peaceful existence, but instead when i think of Religion I think of Hate, War, and Abuse!! Religions will be one of the downfalls of mankind!!

    April 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. Alffredo

    Good for this Muslim woman to do what she wants. Allah really doesn't care about this. The problem is pathetic insecure Muslim men. Muslim men repress their woman because of their own frail insecurities. If Muslim woman had equality this world would be much better off...

    April 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • ma5t3r

      much better off than Iraq? Libya? Afghanistan? Terrorism? You people need to prioritize!

      April 17, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  5. ComputrRage

    She kinda looks like a Man, No Offence!

    April 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  6. Geezer

    I bet she's got one hell of a furry beaver. I'd want to see white bubbles come out of the that starfish spoked hole.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  7. Muneef

    Haha funny some people here are already under her pants....

    Any way it is considered that the constant stare at a woman is as bad as adultery...so now all those staring at her while she is in the contest half naked will be as committing adultery...that they will deserve punishment of God on date of judgment...for that reason God required the women in the Quran to dress well and not show their beauty wearing short or tight fit clothing declaring the exact body shape....

    April 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Muneef

      The beauty contest needs her to do all that told not to do in this verse as well those men watching her walk half naked;
      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 9:27 pm |
  8. ST

    I think Shanna Bukhari, should be Miss UK. We,re not in the stoneages,we;re in a new century & a new time. So, the musliim community should stop their stereotypes on woman. I like Rima Fekki & her high standard position of Miss universe. Also the other position she might get in the TV program i watch. Called tough enough on Mon. nights.Anyone who likes to be in a pagent from the muslim community,is an aspiration to me. yours truly, Arab-American mom ; from CA,USA

    April 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  9. Donahue H.

    I don't care what religion someone is. If they're hot enough let 'em win!

    April 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  10. mrlewish

    But most of all she's not that good looking. Not enough to be in the Miss Universe contest anyway.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  11. viking

    Shouldn't she wear a burka to compete in true muslim fashion.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Muneef

      Wearing horns on her head will do fine thank you.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  12. John

    1. She looks like Miss Piggy.
    2. This is old news.
    3. There are way more hotter Muslim chicks out there.

    are we done with this article yet, CNN?

    April 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. gods2fight

    Islamists are retards,thats why their countries are mostly hellholes and they try to migrate to Europe. Same with the Bible Belt in US. Religion is the bane of mankind

    April 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  14. Krista America

    There is no such thing as muslim beauty. It all stinks to high heaven and is a fraud....most religions are, I'm coming to realize.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  15. Fr33th1nk3r

    How about this, NJABER– if you and your people don't like to look at beautiful women– then DON'T!!! But don't try to tell me or anyone else what THEY can look at, or that it cheapens a person to pursue their own fortune, whether that be through a beauty pageant, business venture, or sitting on their prayer mat six times a day to pray to the eastern sun. She can do as she pleases, and you can do as you please (as long as it does not involve wearing a bomb into a crowded public place). Why do religious fanatics such as yourself always try to dictate to EVERYONE, even those that do not share your beliefs, what they can and cannot do with their lives? I support this woman's courage and fart in the general direction of you and your Bronze-Aged religious extremists.....

    April 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • ma5t3r

      its five times, idiot, and to the northeast. Just correcting.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • equalOpportunityOffender

      Islam is not from the Bronze Age. It's a blight that started about 400 years after Rome finally completely fell apart because some dude got kicked out of a city, rounded up a gang of thugs and went back to kill off the dudes who kicked him out. Somewhere along the way he found "religion" as a way to justify revenge. (I'm not anti-Islam - I have similar summaries for most of the major world religions - I'm an equal opportunity offender. If you can't stand your religion being summarized then mayhaps your faith should be examined. )

      April 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  16. sanjosemike

    I truly feel badly for this young woman. She is facing the cancer of Islam all by herself...and she may pay for it with her life.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Kyle

      Why would you call Islam a cancer?? honestly... it shows our ignorance which in turn is hate.... the Muslim traditions are far different than our own, therefore they hold different standards.... just like back in the 30's and 40's women of the states weren't allowed to show much skin at all.... Study the religion before you correlate it with cancer... that is quite a demeaning statement.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • BG

      " that is quite a demeaning statement."

      Thanks for letting us know that he got it right.

      April 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  17. Mohamad

    No need to worry about her. She will be stoned to death by her muslin brothers. One less to worry about....

    April 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Aisha

      I don't understand why you are writing this over here with your name?
      Islam has a bad name as it is, because of people like you who create such misunderstandings . You're making it worse. by saying what you just said, you are proving people right when they say Islam is all about hatred and violence when it isn't.
      People like you should be punished, not her.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Muneef

      Aisha.

      It is obvious that he is no Muslim nor his name is Mohamed....just pretending to get all understand that he is Muslim and that how he solves the case...

      April 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Mohamad #2

      I'm the true Mohamad, the other Mohamad is a false Mohamad. The false Mohamad needs to be punished in accordance with Sharia. Then there will be two less to worry about, but Mohamad #2 will come out on top, which is the only thing I care about. Oh yeah people are right, Islam is violent and everyone should worry. Mohamad #2 wouldn't lie to you.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • BG

      @ Aisha

      Yes! PUN * ish * Ment ! PUN * ish * Ment !!

      What'd you have in mind?

      April 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Muneef

      Actually was saying the spelling you use for the name is wrong therefore you couldn't be a real Muslim...got it now...

      April 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  18. JC

    Why is this story being recycled? This was up several weeks ago. It was boring then

    oh yeah, still boring.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  19. dirka dirka

    WOW.I can't wait to see those ankles.Hope the eye holes on her bed sheet are big enough.At least there ready for hollloween.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  20. njaber

    Everything she said does not make any sense what so ever. It's all made up philosophy she has in her head. True Muslim beauty for a woman or a man is modesty. I only hope God-willing that people stop and think that a woman exposing herself like that only cheapens her.

    April 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      You don't make sense. You are among those who make things up adhoc to suit what you think.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • sanjosemike

      And you will kill her because she is "immodest" won't you? That will "satisfy" the cancer that is your religion.

      April 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Kevin in Atlanta

      You do realize there is alot more that goes into being Miss USA/UK/Universe than just looks, right?

      I say more power to her, be proud of who you are...

      April 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Wearing bomb vests into crowded public marketplaces, spraying acid/poison on 7 year old girls for going to school ( in violation of Shariah Law), and running your daughter over with your pickup truck for being "too westernized" is normal behavior in the Muslim world, even respectable– so who are you to say what makes sense and what does not?

      April 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • tp

      njaber, very true... I agree with you...

      April 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • FifthApe

      njaber: Keep your primitive stone age beliefs to yourself.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Bill Watson

      Isn't that Snooki?

      April 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Gregory

      Never mind, you wouldn't listen anyway.

      April 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Just a thought

      When you look at the Middle East you are really looking at western culture much like ours back in the middle ages. The Crusades and inquisition were similar to some of the practices used today in Middle Eastern countries. Westerners had Witch burnings stonings ect. If you listen to some of the rhetoric coming from the Middle East they often call us crusaders. Calling westerners crusaders also shows how little they truly know about our culture and that reference will also cause their citizens to view us as we were in the 1600’s. To understand their behavior is a window to our past as well. We might do better if we try to understand their culture, and if it stays on this path in may be more compatible with western culture as time goes on.

      April 14, 2011 at 10:02 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.