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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. markjuliansmith

    Freedom of choice for women wearing the burqa and veil – Clearly not.

    Is this not violent pressure to conform to an Islamic stereotype which all women face?

    April 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  2. Gary

    For anyone to come out and say "You Should Be Killed" they themselves should be arrested as a threat towards humanity They should be fined, imprisoned and when they come out should have their picture posted on the internet as an threat to society just like those who are Pediphiles. When they move and wherever they go should have to report to authorities. In doing this they will soon learn to shut their freek'n mouth of horrors and learn that their religion is not superior to humananity and life and ajust themselves to comform to kindness for the sake of all humans.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  3. MP

    There will never be peace until Islam is wiped off the face of the earth.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • renjikuchiki1

      if you aren't here, there might be a little more peace.... so make yourself vanish and do us all a favor

      April 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  4. Briffault

    She's hot....

    April 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  5. World_Citizen

    So, help me understand the reasoning of many here.

    If this girl being Muslim makes her evil because of the actions of some Muslims, does that mean that all white Americans are murdering cannibals since Jeffrey Dahmer was a white American? Ted Bundy? Etc.? Are all Catholic priests child molesters? Do all Texans drag black people behind pick-up trucks until they're dead and mangled?

    It's understandable that people who live in many Arab countries, China, Cuba, etc. Would think that the actions / words of a few would represent the beliefs of the entire group because they have only ever been allowed to have the government's official "opinion", so free speech would be a difficult concept to get their heads around.

    In the free world we know, and the above examples bare this out, we understand that the actions of a few doesn't necessarily represent the beliefs of the group... oh, except when it comes to people who are Muslim.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • renjikuchiki1

      must bigots are idiots who refuse to try to understand another culture....

      April 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • honey

      Ya we live in the U.S. but were do you come off with the ideal that big brother is not whaching everything we do. Big Brother not just a T.V. show.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Dontworry

      No I know islam and I dont like it and the more I learn the more I dont like it...it is a murderous, terrorist, revisionist, oppressive religion with zero tolerance for other religions...murdering babies and innocent civilians burning churches, synogogues and hindu temples to build mosques on top of the rubble, dancing in the streets when westerners are killed such as after 9/11....there is nothing to like about this religion....

      April 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  6. Jennifer WOmble

    Girlfriend,there is nothing wrong with you and you are beautiful the way god made you.Don't let other people intimidate you and making you feel unwanted.Keep your integrity up,your standards,values and morals up.Go for it and don't let anybody stop you from your dreams and always keep your head up.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  7. Yarrrr

    Does anyone watch beauty pageants anymore? Finding pictures/videos of hot women on the internet is not exactly challenging these days.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  8. Jez

    BTW – look around – this chick is NOT attractive.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Jack

      Tell me you wouldn't be all over that, if she let you anywhere near her of course?

      April 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  9. Gary

    Ban intolerance! Oh wait, does that sound contradictory? Beauty contests insure that women are viewed as window dressing and not taken seriously. What a world......

    April 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Saiyan5

      100% true

      April 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  10. Jez

    The only reason "Miss USA" (- "WHO??!!") is Muslim, is Donald Trump was trying to get attention for his loser pageant. "Miss America" is the pageant everyone knows – Miss USA is some loser Trump creation.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  11. mary

    some people use their religion to manipulate others , special islam musulman and all those arabic countries ,because they have no idea how to be a good person ,their culture are crazy .with sick main, using their god name to kile others
    ,

    April 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • noney

      Have you been drinking?

      April 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  12. Mosihasteen

    Shanna, you are beautiful, there is no reason you shouldn't pursue your dream. I hope it works out for you. You may not win the crown, but you may just win the freedom of many young ladies of your faith who are currently too scared and steeped in an antiquated way of worship that would harm them if they did something similar.

    To those who say "Britain is a white country" – she looks white enough for me!

    Yes – I am a white guy, but living in the US.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  13. ijreilly

    Oh, so she can't wear a bikini because that would be way too revealing. That being said, if she wins, congratulations, she deserves it. I really wonder though, what percentage of the hateful messages she recieves are from the muslim community versus the white English base. She only says that gets e-mails from a "minority in the Muslim community". She didn't say they send the least. They tend not to like these things.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  14. edvhou812

    Mohammed only took a turd when the sum of the digits that represent the time of the day was a odd number. Anyone who does not do as Mohammed did when he turded, shall be killed.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  15. Dan Sichel

    You go girl! Don't let idiots or bigots of any type stop you from pursuing your dreams. I say keep your head high and press on, if only to show Moslem women that they can pursue their dreams, and if only to show haters that hate cannot defeat you. I am not a Moslem, I am a Christian, but I support you and respect your choices in life.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • mary

      crazy who ever think to kille other just because their dont follow a crazy religion , everybody is free to do werever they wont to you all cray guys .

      April 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  16. mary

    Stand-up for religious tolerance. This mean's I'll let you believe what you want to believe without condemning you or hurting you. Gender tolerance. This means I will respect you as a man or as a woman. I respect that you both are equal in the eyes of God.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • BG

      "Stand-up for religious tolerance."

      Stand down for theo-fascist intolerant megalomania masquerading as "religion."

      April 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  17. 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.

    (sorry ment to post this here)

    April 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • BG

      @ Just a thought

      "We might do better if we try to understand their culture..."
      We do, and that's why we don't like it.

      ".. and if it stays on this path in may be more compatible with western culture as time goes on."
      It seems that it's -you- who doesn't "understand their culture."

      April 14, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Marisol

      Dear "Just a thought", many thanks!

      April 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Loren

      Western culture was similar during the middle ages, but so was their culture. Ours has changed, their's, not so much.

      April 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Patrick

      Our culture has changed, but not so much. We in the US are torturing our captives and England and other Western nations have complied. We used nuclear weapons and firebombs, napalm, etc. against civilian populations: Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Dresden, North Vietnam. Only Saddam Hussein did as bad, gassing his own people – with poison gas supplied by the US. Many in the West are peace-loving, as are many in the Mid-East. Why should this young woman be castigated for participating in a beauty contest? She looks beautiful to me and seems to have a good spirit. I hope she wins – and wants to go on a date with me.

      April 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  18. David

    I don't think peope should judge her but honestly, she is not that good looking and trying to get publicity by exageratting the opposition or threats.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • no

      Her makeup is horrible, looks like an over-done Mexican female gang-banger from LA

      April 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Saiyan5

      The winner is not necessarily the most beautiful woman in a beauty pageant contest, talent and IQ play a part of if.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  19. Jennifer

    Good to this woman. I wish her well.

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

      She should only be judged by what's on the outside....like all beauty contestants.

      April 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  20. Zenrahim

    Hello Ms. Shanna Bukhari, We do dwell in the past when we are not busy which is known as day dreaming, Please capture your moments and don't let this hipocratic fragile humans trying to protect Allah and muslim religion with lousy gestures and threat emails because all this will be a matter of past except that you will be in complete peace knowing that you did the right thing which is your ownl FREE WILL. Please know that in order to walk away from their own sins, guilt, lust, people try to point at someone anyone as long as they can convince themself see I am better than this or that.

    April 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • mary

      I am in complete agreement! Thank you for speaking your opinion!

      April 14, 2011 at 10:37 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.