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. Waiting

    Somewhere someone is trying to convince someone else that this is an insult to the Prophet and to condemn this young Muslim woman they will drive a car bomb into a mosque.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Monte


      April 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  2. Robert Pare

    GO SHANNA GO !! We love you in Montreal, Canada !!!

    April 15, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • hamza

      understandable,she is promoting christian ways

      April 15, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Monte

      Almost 100 percent of the time, religion has nothing to do with God or worship, it is just a social club or gang wrapped in fake devotion to some deity. Look at the history of religion, just a bunch of murderers, robbers, racists you name it, doing what they do "for God, or with his blessing".
      I give some of you credit, you have a form of Godly devotion, but in most cases, you will drop it and slaughter ANYONE that disagrees with you, or that your current leaders tell you to, and of course, you will be doing it with "God's" blessing.
      General's always say, "You can not have a great war without "Christians".
      Islam, Hindu, Buddhists, Mormon's, Catholic's
      If your religion condones war, if is not from God. If you threaten someone like this woman, you are not from God. If your religion would not remove you or discipline you for doing so, it is not from God.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Sally

      Don't let ANYONE bring you down! GO SHANNA GO!!!!!!

      April 15, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Monte

      It is a shell game Nocordoba, but under each shell is a car bomb, a sword, a hand grenade or something object of destruction, hey, it is not just Islam, Catholic's and other so called "Christian" religions were, (still are,or stand ready to be) the terrorist organization's of their day.
      True religion is one that its over riding attribute is LOVE without hypocrisy. WORLD WIDE.

      April 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  3. soliman

    well, if she doesn't pray her 5 times a day, then she is not a muslim
    end of story

    April 15, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  4. Jp

    She's beautiful!! Keep religion out of it.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  5. notborncynical

    She's a beautiful woman, and even though she's Muslim she deserves the right to express herself and grow as a person. I hope this is one more chink in the armor of the Muslin regligion teachings that women are to be completely subservient to men without their own rights and have to spend their lives covered from head to toe.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  6. Ralph

    She's a dog covering up her dog face with a big glop of make-up. If she's representative of Muslim women, thank God for the veil.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  7. Here's the Truth

    She's not hot enough to win, but she is getting enough controversy and attention to get her own reality show and her own line of cosmetics and hair removal products. She's an Islamic Kardasian.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  8. Coloured

    Nobody has been saying anything about having a multicultural GB Olympic team. It is 2011, not the middle ages. Quit acting like a bunch of hostile racists and grow up. She was born and raised there – therefore she is British.

    Much love from Canada.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  9. MightyMoo

    Wow she's a cutie, good luck to her. As for the cry babies who think she should stop, grow up. It's her life and her choices, not yours. Worry about your own problems first.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  10. sanjosemike

    Too much eye makeup...but she looks OK. My preference is (either the new or the old) Wonder Woman.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  11. DGH Concord Ca

    The idiot are at it again....they are just mad because she has expanding her horizon and not limiting her self to a stupid religions doctoring... "you have my vote"

    April 15, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  12. Tim

    I don't care if she's muslim, she's ugly.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • John - Charlotte, NC

      I'm sorry... but if you think she's ugly, then I'd bet the farm that you are as gay as the day is long! 😛

      April 15, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  13. ThatOTHERdrunk


    April 15, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  14. Sal

    Religion is the cause of most problems in the world today! A world filled with atheists would be a much better and safer world! The evangelical christian freaks in this country are not any better than the hostile muslim world. 

    April 15, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • brian

      Right on Sal

      April 15, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • chef dugan

      Very true. However, the Christians are a lot more dangerous.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • chuck

      Wow, what fools. No where in history do you see someone claiming to kill in Jesus's name. He died so we can live and the Muslims believe they kill so their god can live. What a twisted world we live in when someone thinks doing the right thing is so wrong. You may not believe in God, but as an atheist you think being good is just being human. Everything around you screams a higher being and your best explanation is a single cell organism? I cannot change you and no christian ever wants to change you. We only want to share the good news and let you decide. If you deny him then that's your desicion, but no true Christian has ever killed in Jesus's name period!

      April 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    Shanna Bukhari, will you marry me?

    April 15, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  16. tailwndz

    Tony u r an idiot

    April 15, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  17. How

    Those who think they have the right to critize others just because they think they hold the highest principle usually can't stand other people's criticism towards them because their principle is simply perfect.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  18. Kim

    Ok...What is the problem? I'm not getting this. She's pretty, just like I'm sure the rest of the women in the pageant are. There should be no reason she can't be in this beauty pageant. I mean, it is not based solely on physical beauty; you have to have personality and character too. There's nothing wrong with that or with a woman feeling confident about herself. It makes me mad that this woman is catching slack from people who are basically saying she doesn't deserve to be in a beauty pageant because of her religion. It's not like she's going to be walking around naked, geez.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • chef dugan

      She says it isn't about her religion. Then whynot wear a bikini like the rest of the contestents? Another insidious way for Muslims to creep under the tent with little things.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  19. mango

    easy on the mascara Tammy Faye, looks bad

    April 15, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • agathokles

      I totally agree! Ridiculous eye makeup.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  20. Ayaa

    First off, Mashaallah, she is just beautiful. 🙂 The way that I see it, as a muslim convert, it that she is not her religion. She has the freedom to do, and be, what she wants. You have the freedom of speech and action in our lovely Great Britain. I may not approve of EVERYTHING, but thumbs up that she isn't wearing a bikini. 🙂 If she thinks she is a good muslim, then I believe her, and I'm rooting for her. Inshallah, she will have success in future contests.

    April 15, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Abudu Rahman

      As Salaamulaikum sister, Muslims don't convert, we revert to what all creation was originally created as.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Peter

      I agree, she is a beautiful woman and belongs on the pages of Playboy etc.. I would date her for sure and wouldn't mind rockin her world....:)

      April 15, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • chuck

      So ironic, Nice religion that gives death threats to it's own people. Funny how the liberal Muslim says she can do it, but would suggest she don't. OK liberal Muslims are very intolerant and the middle of the road to conservative Muslim wants to kill her. What a great religion of peace.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • hamza

      @chuck-islam is not a religion of peace,islam is a religion of freedom from occupation and foreign invaders.no religion will advise you to be peacefull and accept occupation.that is why west has problems with muslims.

      April 15, 2011 at 10:58 am |
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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.