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. sheisugly

    She might be ugly, as usual, instead of supporting her, the media seems to be more interested in pointing out about the bigots, as if the bigots were the stars and the people we ought to remember.

    Best of ugly, I mean luck.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • bigrick

      this is rediculous

      April 15, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  2. Don

    She's mildly hot. Folks that are taking issue with her need to mind their own freekin business. Chances are that they have no business of their own and are envious. TGIF

    April 15, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  3. Mark

    She is a beautiful young lady. Miss Universe is a beauty pageant. If she is good with it, then everyone else should simply change the channel and not watch the show. Her religion is between her and her beliefs. I would think that is pretty much the end of the story.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  4. akleos

    It's a trap!

    April 15, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. Reality Check

    This Belief Blog is pathetic...CNN where's the Secular Blog?? Who really cares about this woman?

    April 15, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  6. Ricardo101

    As long as there is religion, there wont be world peace.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  7. HoustonLaw01

    I oppose beauty pagents in principle because I think they exploit women. However, I firmly believe that women who choose to participate in these events should be allowed to do so without regard to religion and without threats from ignorant bigots. I hope she goes unharmed as far as her heart desires.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  8. seriously?

    You’re a Disgust

    April 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  9. N


    April 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  10. Twinkle

    Poop 🙂

    April 15, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  11. JC

    It never ceases to amaze me that people in this day and age still act out and believe in a literary text that was written by a so called "prophet" or "savior" over 1500-2000 years ago. I mean, just think about that? Think about what the world was like back then. It's just scary to think people follow that blindly. Sure, some things in the religious books are true and there are good moral life lessons in them but come on people. For someone to give a death threat because shes not wearing modest clothing?? That sounds like textbook insanity to me.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  12. Ted

    This is crazy. I do not like Islam.I think its an evil religion. But this a contest of beauty and talent not religion.This girl should be allowed to compete and be judjed soley on her beauty poise and talent

    April 15, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  13. Rick

    There are no white westerners calling for her murder. Only her own people from her religion are saying that.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  14. Summer819

    I don't care what race, religion, gender you are...no one deserves to be treated like this. Fine if you oppose beauty contests based on your religion, but to threaten her seems hypocritical in the least. I am growing tired of religions (all religions), trying to dictate what everyone else has to do and then feel it is their right to punish those who don't comply. It is not their duty to judge. It doesn't pay to get riled up over something out of your control. At the end of the day, I'm not sure how anyone can claim to believe in God (or a god) and justify threatening, harming or killing someone because they felt that person wasn't doing right. Judge not lest ye be judged.

    I pray she will be protected and go on to win the contest! She's a beautiful woman and should not be punished because she refuses to cover herself. Maybe it's the men who need tamed if they view women this way 😉

    April 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  15. Talnz

    What a remarkable woman. I hope there are many more Muslim women just like her.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • tailwndz

      yea she is and I think Tony is an idiot

      April 15, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  16. Young

    That's a really tough place for her, and it always is when religion intersects with almost anything. I'm a Catholic, but I've always considered myself more spiritual than religious, and this provides a really good snapshot of the difference between the two. I feel as though "religious" people do judge, they do condemn, they feel like it's ok to make death threats to someone that isn't as "religious" as they are. VERY ironic. But, as far as being "spiritual," I've always looked at it as having the same level of faith, just not so imposing on others. I whole-heartedly believe in my faith, but I don't think that my personal solidarity in that justifies me judging others...

    And just as a side note, she CAN'T be the most beautiful woman in the UK... I mean, she's ok looking, but she's got like 7 pounds of makeup on her face, and just generally doesn't strike me as a Miss Universe contestant at all. I mean, good luck and everything, and I hope it all works out for her, but eh.... Not all that, juuuuuuust sayin....

    April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Dontworry

      True, if thats the most beautiful woman in the UK I feel bad for the men there....I know there are better, I have seen some myself....they probably wanted to shove this muslim down everyones throat again and stir up some controversy...

      April 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • neoritter

      I'm sorry, I agree that there are those types of people out there. But you can't suddenly decide to change the definition of a word to fit your world view. Arbitrarily deciding to assign all the bad elements of religious people into that word is just wrong. There are plenty of religious people that are not that way. The real definition has nothing to do with the attributes you've decided to assign to them.

      I must ask though, why are you judging them?

      April 15, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  17. SoS

    Anyone else notice how she says she makes sure to state that the hate mail she gets from Muslims represents a a small minority of that group, yet she does not apply that same statement to hate mail from other demographics?

    How very typical...

    April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Dave

      Typical, agreed, but not necessarily from her... could be the editing.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  18. Jesus

    Bigotry sucks!

    April 15, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • swap42

      Agreed, Jesus! I'm sure there are just as many Christian crazy people as there are Muslim ones. There are a lot of Muslims out there who don't believe infidels should be killed. I mean after all, the rules of Christianity are often just as archaic and bigoted. Most people take what they like from their religion and leave the rest.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  19. Alex

    Why do Muslims judge and threaten those who don't hold up to their standard of Islam or even the teachings of Mohammed? Some even suggest she should be murdered. Why is it THEIR business? If they truly believe in God, isn't that for God to judge?

    April 15, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Dontworry

      Thats what the koran and muhaamad dictate....murder....murder of infidels, Catholics, Jews , babies, old ladies and bad muslims....

      April 15, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • How

      How do you know she is telling the truth or doing this to get "cheap" publicity. Plus I am being Muslim don't give "damn" what she is doing or acting. BTW why this"ugly looking" women or median is labeling her as a "Muslim" queen (think..to just get media attention). Have u ever heard a "Christian" or "Jew" beauty queen.

      April 15, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • ssss

      Not all Muslims do that. God I wish you would stop generalizing. Im Muslim and I can give a rats behind. Seems to me she's just trying to when over some love.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  20. kathleen

    She is beautiful and I do not give a crap about her being a good muslim there is no such thing.

    April 15, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • seriously?

      You’re ignorant

      April 15, 2011 at 9:55 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.