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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. Evan

    She made one mistake when she said she's heard hate messages from all religions. I doubt that a Buddhist has said any such thing to her.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  2. rgengel

    So I am looking at the picture. Where is the beauty. Very average dark girl- definitely no beauty queen

    April 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  3. Bill

    There are people who call themselves Catholics, but never go to Church on Sunday or use birth control. She is a Muslim in the general sense and no different than any other person who believes in a particular religion and follows the religious laws that fit their life style.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  4. trixen

    I wish all the best to her.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  5. Cruchot

    You can write thousands of pages about muslims and their life style, go on and on analyzing them with different approaches, at the end of the day they are all from the same mold: women are chattel, men are leaders applying Allah's revelations written in the Kuran, therefore infallible. Since 691, muslims have been waging war against the infidels but also among them. The sword is their sole emblem. Why do you think its a sword and not a pen or a peaceful item? Do you still believe a compromise is in the works?

    April 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Socialist

    FAQ islam

    April 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  7. Joey

    America has no problem with our Muslim, Arab Miss USA. Rima Fakih has appeared several times on WWE broadcasts and always receives a huge ovation from the pro wrestling crowd. Now, if a bunch of wrestling fans don't have a problem with her, I highly doubt anyone else does.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • hamza

      wow,what a fan base-pro-wrestling crowd!what an honor!

      April 15, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Dontworry

      those fans still believe wrestling is real....I dont care what they think...

      April 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  8. RostamI

    The following story may bring some relief to this lady's dilemma:

    The Pastor's Ass

    The pastor entered his donkey in a race and It won..
    The pastor was so pleased with the donkey that he entered it in the Race
    Again, and it won again.

    The local paper read:

    PASTOR'S ASS OUT FRONT.

    The Bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity that he ordered the pastor not to enter the donkey in another race.
    The next day, the local paper headline Read:

    BISHOP SCRATCHES PASTOR'S ASS.

    This was too much for the bishop, so he ordered the pastor to get rid of the donkey.
    The pastor decided to give it to a nun in a nearby convent.
    The local paper, hearing of the news, posted the following headline the next day:

    NUN HAS BEST ASS IN TOWN.

    The bishop fainted.
    He informed the nun that she would have to get rid of the donkey, so she sold it to a farmer for $10.
    The next day the paper read:

    NUN SELLS ASS FOR $10.

    This was too much for the bishop, so he ordered the nun to buy back the donkey and lead it to the plains where it could run
    Wild..
    The next day the headlines read:

    NUN ANNOUNCES HER ASS IS WILD AND FREE.

    The bishop was buried the next day.

    The moral of the story is . . Being concerned about public opinion can bring you much grief and misery . .
    Even shorten your life.

    So be yourself. Stop worrying about everyone else's ass and you'll be a lot happier and live longer!
    Have a great day!

    April 14, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Zenrahim

      W0w

      April 15, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • mary

      Really great!

      April 15, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  9. Dan

    She might as well be Mary Magdelene. When are humans going to ever get past this crazy religious voo doo magic stuff?
    It's absolutely rediculous. Grow up you simps.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  10. Jonathan

    It's just a matter of time before some jerk throws acid at her. Welcome to the new Europe I guess.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  11. Al-Ishaqi Al-Hashimi

    She can do whatever she wants but she must not use Islam to gain popularity. She needs to understand what is being a Muslimah and then she can see if she is one!

    April 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  12. oooh, Hypocrisy!

    I just posted:
    Didn’t an Arab-American win Miss USA Last year? Don't quote me on this I’m not 100% sure, she barely got any grief over it. Also I’m not saying this means the USA is more tolerant than the UK. Im simply stating fact.

    Anyway this is all I heard, I've never bothered paying attention to the Pageants, did the Arab-American wear a Bikini? I don't know, did she wear revealing clothes? I don't know (Although they were probably considered revealing by conservative Muslims)

    I think this is all for the public's attention to be honest. Muslims should stop judging her, I’m pretty sure no one’s allows to tell another Muslim they are evil or sinners or going to hell, and if the UK claims to be such a free, democratic country where ethnicity doesn't matter, than the citizens there should shush and let her compete and represent them. Good Luck to her nonetheless.
    ======================================

    I just watched the video after posting the above comment.

    #1 LOL the Miss USA is in the video
    #2 Yea the person representing england isn't the best looking model I've seen.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  13. oooh, Hypocracy!

    Didn’t an Arab-American win Miss USA Last year? Don't quote me on this I’m not 100% sure, she barely got any grief over it. Also I’m not saying this means the USA is more tolerant than the UK. Im simply stating fact.

    Anyway this is all I heard, I've never bothered paying attention to the Pageants, did the Arab-American wear a Bikini? I don't know, did she wear revealing clothes? I don't know (Although they were probably considered revealing by conservative Muslims)

    I think this is all for the public's attention to be honest. Muslims should stop judging her, I’m pretty sure no one’s allows to tell another Muslim they are evil or sinners or going to hell. On the other side, if the UK claims to be such a free, democratic country where ethnicity doesn't matter, than the citizens there should shush and let her compete and represent them. Good Luck to her nonetheless.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Bibi5

      You might want to go back and actually read the whole article.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  14. snork

    Insecure arab monkeys. Jealous and fearful of beautiful women.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  15. damugly

    it does not matter her religion , it matter that she is dam... ugly. I hope she does not win, otherwise its rigged contest cause she so darnnn uglyyyyyyyyy

    April 14, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • not so much

      There is a reason she was selected to represent the UK. It's because she looks good. Your probably a spiteful woman, who's jealous of anyone prettier than you, or a man frustrated with your pig of wife.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Fr33d0mhawk

      damugly has a different idea of beauty. His poster girl is Jan Brewer, has Jan plastered on his bedroom ceiling, his bathroom, his tissue boxes, and the only other posters are of Ted Haggard on his tubes of prep H. Give the guy a break, he's a Teapot, we expected more from a right winger?.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Truth

      You got that right!!!
      HAHAHAHAHA
      But I totally agree with you

      April 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  16. JLSR

    When in Rome.....?

    April 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  17. Jenn

    She is just trying to get some attention with this kind of news. Her negative use of Islam for self-promotion is nasty though!

    April 14, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • MikeHouston

      The only nasty thing about this beautiful young woman's representing England in the Miss Universe Pageant is the fact that
      white racists and sanctimonious Muslims are attacking her. What is really "nasty" is the Muslim denigration of their women.
      Makes me wonder if their men aren't basically afraid of their women.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Bob

      Oh but some people would raise hell if there was a gorgeous Russian woman as Miss Nigeria too.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  18. laila

    She is representing England not a Muslim country..so what is the big deal...and she isn't the first Muslim woman who participated in a pageant. There are Muslims who do far worse things and they don't get judge..lol I think this kind of stuff is all about publicity and attention otherwise who cares

    April 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  19. Angelique

    Rofl – the closing on this kills me. Since when is the USA more tolerant than Britain? XD "They only see me as Miss USA" yeah right. XD

    April 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Mike

      Are you serious? I lived in GB for 6 years and it was about as racist a place as I have ever been (South Korea is the most. I have been here 4 years and counting...). The US has become much more tolerant, but our media keeps that tolerance in check by fear mongering and sensationalism when ever ethnicity or religion is at the forefront. In Korea, they just plain don't like foreigners, especially Americans (....and why would they, all America has done is keep North Korea in check for 60 years while South Korea has become more and more prosperous). The reality is that we should just leave many of these countries to themselves and let them get on with things however they wish. I believe we have tried to do just that in Libya, but our "allies" want to drag us in further.

      April 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  20. Luke

    Her job is to stand there looking pretty. To be stared at because she was born looking a certain way. Nothing about this deserves to be taking seriously.

    April 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Bibi5

      Sort of like anything you have to say?

      April 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • lisa

      Poor lady!! She can't win for losing!! She tries to represent and gets shot down!! Ah, but how typical in this day and age...UGH!!

      April 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Mike

      I agree. Since when has being a beauty queen been anything more than just that? If they stopped having beauty contests would anyone notice? I've lived all over the world and never once have I seen one, talked to one, or heard about one doing something in the community....anywhere. Sort of like that age old question "What if they gave a party and no one came?"...

      April 14, 2011 at 11:43 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.