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. Ally Gorey

    She is not ugly. She is not beautiful. She has an OK look. But she has a "com'on " look to turn guys' hormones on at least for a one night stand kinda thing.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  2. meme

    put a bag over her head and leave the rest naked.. no will know it is her anyway... her modesty preserved.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  3. vet2640

    Hey everybody, "MISS UNIVERSE", she, represents "ALL" of us, sideline your politics and hatred, come on people, this is one beautiful woman of the world. Shanna Bukhari, you got my vote!!, good luck to you, be safe.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  4. Bryan

    I think she has as much right to compete as anyone else from her community. If it was an african tribeswoman with a plate in her lip, everyone would be laughing and pointing, but a muslim....welll we can't have that can we!!!!!!
    Do what you want Shanna!!! Do your best and you'll make Manchester and Britain proud!

    April 15, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  5. Noble9

    Does any straight guy honestly care what religion a beautiful woman is?

    April 15, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Dontworry

      Yes....I would not touch a muslim woman...

      April 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  6. stonedwhitetrash

    Stone her! Let me restate that. Get her stoned!

    April 15, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  7. illuminated Genius

    Well it is official now Islam is becoming highly unpopular. The best thing this woman can do is leave Islam and talk to Wafa Sultan to denounce radical Islam the real Islam in the world and show she is a real woman and defend the rights of women by not being enslaved into wearing Burqa's or allow the Islamic world to treat women as second class citizens.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  8. poconos

    thats the bad part of being muslim they think they rule the womens killing them is their pushiment thats not right to all those hater let this girl live her life whose is you to make the rules only god rules my god punish those who even think about kliling god dose not have that in his bibble.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  9. Bill Wood

    The bigotry against Muslims is not surprising, but still repulsive. Ditto with the Muslims who are threatening her life. She should be treated as an individual, not a religion. It's time everyone stop acting like children, ad instead act like civilized adults.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  10. Brunul

    Are you guys on dope? She is very pretty.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  11. Carlos

    Islam promotes freedom and individuality . . . until one actually dares to try to test that theory.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  12. Joe B-b-b-b-bob

    She's exceptionally courageous. She knew very well she'd be in for a lot of ignorant BS, but went ahead nonetheless. Wonderful and I salute her – a step forward in human evolution. Best of luck to you, Ms. Bukhari.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  13. ahtesham

    Proud to be a Muslim...love Islam...built upon the older religions and completes Judaism and CHristianity....they just ignore to look into and read it without bias.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • foxfascism

      If the Koran Bible and Torah are really the teachings of the same god, what accounts for the inconsistency in writing style and messages? Its pretty obvious that all three were written by humans who were just as flawed as the books that they wrote. Think about all of the smartest human beings who have lived in the past few thousand years, if DaVinci had wanted to he too could have started his own religion, and written his own book. As far as I am concerned all of these "prophets" were opportunistic, power seeking, quasi politicians.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  14. Dan

    I think a lot of that abuse is because she is ugly not because she is Muslim.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Joe B-b-b-b-bob

      What's the ugliest part of your body? Some say your nose, some say your toes, but I think it's your mind.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  15. Pat

    I guess what Muslims and non-Muslims have in common is attacking a Muslim women for being at a beauty contest. How ironic and sad. I salute her bravery.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  16. B.Haque

    I totally condemn those threats and hate mail.
    Cheer up Miss. Bukhari and walk ahead. We are with you.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Shane

      Easy for you to say... from behind your keyboard and not dealing with her death threats.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  17. pajocoaz

    Grow up and learn how to respect someone that wants to do something with her life she is not hurting you or anyone else. Muslim or not I notice that there is allot of intolerance towards everything and everyone. Just back off why don't you..if you cannot learn respect for another then you will suffer the same fate you dish out.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  18. RDS

    This young woman has indicated that she is 'a good muslim.' Does that mean she renders unto 'Ceasar' when it comes to supporting female head covering and burkas? Does she think that being a good muslim requires supporting the oppression of women, making them second class citizens at best? Does being a good muslim in her opinion require that young girls can be sold and married out as young as 7 or 8 to older men who use them like animals? I remember the head case Cat Stevens became a 'good muslim.' I remember him saying he 'wanted a good muslim wife.' A 'good muslim wife' must know her place, as subservient to men. If she does not support equality for women, she should not represent England in this contest.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • ahtesham

      you are a freaking idiot...read the bible first and find out what it commanded how women should be treated!

      April 15, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Thomas

      It's funny you should mention all of these practices since all of them are against Islam. That's not to say they don't happen in many Islamic countries - they do. However, the practices are tribal, not religious. By saying that Muslims require that women be repressed and treated as property is akin to saying that Southern Baptist Christians require that African Americans be discriminated against and occasionally lynched. The practices are repugnant and completely contrary to the teachings of the respective religions, but let's not let the facts get in the way of a good rant.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Dharma

      Please do your homework before making accusations. It shows how little you know about the religion. I am a muslim woman from the largest muslim country in the world. Where I come from, women have equal rights in every sense. We have highly educated women holding very prominent positions in corporations and government, even a female president. Please don't confuse the tribal law and the culture of the middle East as Islam.

      April 15, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  19. Dane

    Not guilty until proven guilty is the law of the land for all including the 30 percent who do not consider him to be born in America. Also, there is more important issues Trump should be talking about, issues like jobs, and end of foreign wars and unnecessary expenditures. Creating doubts in the minds of people about Obama's place of birth should be the least important issue on the list

    April 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  20. Jordan

    She's not even hot. Lame.

    April 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Dr k

      Either you are blind or your tastebuds are underdeveloped

      April 15, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Joe B-b-b-b-bob

      Yeah, Snooki she ain't.

      April 15, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • johnny america

      She is like a solid 8 at best when she is all dolled up. Maybe 8.5

      April 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Robert


      April 15, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Brooklyn


      April 15, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • alex

      go for it girl! more power to yu

      April 15, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Vegashorty

      Must be that to you "hotness" is defined by blond hair, blue eyes and a boob job. Otherwise, you would clearly see that she is, indeed, HOT.

      April 15, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Ggargoyle

      Well its refreshing to see a muslim woman in the public eye who does not wear a hideous hijab. I'm getting more and more tired of seeing brainwashed high-school-age girls on the bus, with their heads bound so tightly that you can see the shape of their skulls. Very unappealling, but then, that's the whole point of hijab..

      April 15, 2011 at 1:21 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.