Shanna Bukhari is competing to become the first Muslim to represent Great Britain at the Miss Universe Pageant in September. After entering the contest and advancing to the final round in the United Kingdom, though, the 24-year-old has received indirect threats online for disrespecting Islam.
As a Muslim, Bukhari, of Manchester, is hoping to send a message to other Islamic women that beauty competitions should not be off limits to Muslim women. She believes they should have the ability to adopt Western lifestyles and practices in Great Britain. People in society choose not to work and not to adhere to traditional values, so individuals shouldn’t judge her decision to participate, she said.
Last month, she told CNN:
“I believe the media made my religion and where I come back from an issue and a highlight. My intentions were not to bring my religion into this. I’m proud of where I do come back from … It’s not something I thought I would be getting attacked on.”
According to the Guardian, Bukhari is familiar with intolerance: When she was nine, she went to the hospital after a man screamed racist words and threw a brick at her. As a result, Bukhari suffered a blood clot and required surgery.
Although Bukhari is from Great Britain, the story interested me because of her religion. I am not a fan of beauty pageants, but the story caught my eye because Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country.
I think Bukhari’s struggle with the public and the media is a recent portrayal of how “experts” in the media specialize in the Middle East without actually learning about the region. In the Introduction to Covering Islam, author Edward Said reiterates his concern that the Western media distort the realities of Islam because of opinionated journalists who lack experience, language skills and recognition of historical development. As Said says in his book, the Western media are guided by an evident and disproportionate discourse of fear about the Muslim world, and make incorrect assumptions about the religion and its followers. The “experts” offer the comforting appearance of inside information when, in reality, their observations are inaccurate.
Said says the media’s isolation of Muslim people in news reports is offensive and would not be used to refer to any other religious or demographic group in the world. Consequently, I think the media’s concentration on Bukhari’s religion has allowed individuals to threaten her. I support her decision to enter the competition, and hope she advances to the final round.
After the Miss Universe Great Britain competition on May 1, the winner will advance to the final round in Sao Paulo, Brazil on September 12.
First inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Second inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.