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. Angus Young

    Helen Keller's favorite color is Chuck Norris

    April 15, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  2. LusciousDC

    Sweetie, DO YOU! Let the rest of them figure it out for themselves. You're a beautiful woman regardless of your religion preference. Good Luck to You!

    April 15, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  3. OhRatts

    Those of you who think this woman is pretty... what picture are you looking at? I wish I hadn't read this story right after breakfast...

    April 15, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Meh

      You obviously dont have the ability to see beauty in women from other cultures and parts of the world. Sorry that she doesnt fit your bill. Enjoy whatever beauty queens you end up with.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  4. Hash

    Ms. Bukhari dont be upset. you are right in what you are doing. let the morons shout. do what you aim for.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  5. Dan

    She might as well be Mary Magdelene reincarnate.
    This is what any religious voo doo magic B.S. will get you. Good luck with that.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  6. Rock

    You know that camera man is rubbing a few out each night looking at his work

    April 15, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  7. Meh

    Gorgeous woman – i think she is going to end up missing or worse because of her rotten religion but that would be a reflection of those zealots that actually live the lifestyle and have those specific beliefs. So when she does go missing, hopefully suspect #1 is the guy in this video.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  8. Ryan

    ""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.""
    Maybe she could sacrifice a goat too? Would that help keep her safe?

    April 15, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  9. Reevus.

    if she was pretty I can understand. But she looks like a man, I won't be upset if she was at least PRETTY!

    April 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  10. DarklyDivine

    It shouldn't matter what religious background someone comes from, if this is their dream, then live it! Why does a religion have to define what you can and cannot do? It shouldn't. We're all humans. Stop judging people for their background and start looking at the person inside them.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  11. LetEmSquirm

    keep great britian and all those countries pure white, china needs a target rich environment LOL. china's got 150 years of payback + interest. Keep em white!

    April 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  12. umar hamza

    ok. cnn is biased

    April 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Ed

      DUH! Why do you think we call it the Communist New Network?

      April 15, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Dirk

      Ed, do you even know what "communist" means. Probably not.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  13. Jay

    Why can't people be judged on their character and not their creed, race, or anything else. This is sad and shameful.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Ed

      Fantacy World......

      April 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  14. jesse

    she will represent there no problem 100% of this is pure jelousy com on now its a ritten shame since the 20`s any film or tv or things portayed on camra is supose to be a certain color?? to make everyone happy,and now they profile religion too? none of your buisness who they pray too,mind your own god because he`s minding you.leave here the heck alone,bullies are born because the parents that are the adults feed them.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  15. David M

    I hope she wins.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • EW

      Most likely she will win just like the Muslim Miss USA won. She is the "posterchild" of muslims in pageants. She played her cards right by going public with this. Instead of standing alone and trying to win based on her running in the pageant she is looking for the sympathy vote. If she had any courage/pride she would have come out with this after the pageant and not before.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  16. zxasxz46

    "We're all such morons in the US" Well name caller, who are you to call any one a 'moron' and to lump everyone into your neat little category?

    April 15, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Ed

      I'll have you know the ONLY morons in my country are the ones that voted for Obama, Thank you very much!

      April 15, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Phil

      Hey Ed, I think you fit in the moron category just fine. It's "Fantasy" not "Fantacy". Learn to spell and maybe we'll take your ignorant rants more seriously.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  17. Marti58

    I don't think there is anything wrong being so beautiful, and even becoming Ms. Universe, but I must say it's also true that yoy don't have to be in a swimsuit to promote world peace. Thank you

    April 15, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Dystopiax

      Conversely, in order to promote whirled peas nudity is necessary.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  18. Bryan


    April 15, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Dystopiax

      I hate people who hate you. We haters have to stick together.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • dhondi

      I sure hate all that.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • john

      I hate haters who hate to hate for hate's sake . Just my 2 hating cents .

      April 15, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • dhondi

      It seems that anything is slightly negative is attributed to outright hate...believe it or not people do still find things, unlikeable, irritating, irksome etc with hating them....I guess a black and white world helps the small minds.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  19. Someone

    Wow, I've never seen so many naive posts. These POS blogs just get worse every day. Seems to be littered with anger and outright stupidity. We're scre wed.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • dhondi

      believe it or not, some of these people are just having fun taunting people like you henny penny.

      April 15, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  20. BlackDynamiteNYC

    Can she put on more make-up?
    I can still see her face!


    April 15, 2011 at 8:08 am |
    • Twm

      She is definitely an attractive woman but a beauty Queen?
      Honestly I have seen more viable candidates walking the local streets.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:03 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.