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Muslims Who Model – Part 2 of 3: Shanna Bukhari

Shanna Bukhari poses for a picture
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This series focuses on models who belong to the Muslim faith. With the strict dress code of certain Islamic nations and cultures, some of these models come under fire for their profession.

Shanna Bukhari experienced this personally. After applying for the Miss Universe pageant, she received death threats and online abuse for her clothing choices.

A Liberal Upbringing

Bukhari was born into a large British-Pakistani family in Manchester, England. They were very flexible in their practice of Islam.  Her parents didn’t require weekly visits to the mosque and allowed Bukhari to wear whatever she wanted, with or without a hijab.

As she grew up, Bukhari decided that the western way of life was for her.  In an interview in the documentary Make Me a Muslim, Shanna said, “I just love looking elegant, glamorous, pretty and dolled up.  At the age of 15, I just knew I wanted to get into modelling.”

When asked about how it felt wearing the traditional female dress of Islam, Bukhari said, “Being covered up is very strange.  I’ve got something baggy on me and you can’t see my hair and I feel less pretty . . . I like the way I am and it doesn’t mean I’m not Muslim if I’m not wearing what’s approved.”

Shanna wears a black hijab.
Bukhari puts on a hijab in the documentary Make Me a Muslim. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Model on the Rise

After years of perfecting her looks and immersing herself in fashion, photography and western beauty standards, Bukhari did something no other Muslim had done before.

In 2011 she applied to represent Britain in the Miss Universe pageant, making her the first Muslim to dare to walk the contest’s runway.

Bukhari knew that she would face some backlash from the controversial decision, but she never imagined the hate and intolerance she would receive from her Muslim community.

Bikhari received hate mail that was so distressing she was afraid to go outside of her apartment.  Some of those cruel messages read:

“She won’t look good once she’s had her head removed with a rusty penknife.”

“Stop disrespecting Islam with your filthy image.  You’re nothing but a whore.”

“You take all your clothes off and pray for attention.  I hope you die and burn in hell next to your father because you’re nothing but trash.”

Fort Collins resident, Amira Minhaj, said, “I think it was really brave of her to do what she did.  Nowhere in the Quran does it say that you have to wear the hijab, but it does encourage modesty.  At the end of the day, modesty is speculative and Shanna shouldn’t be wished death by Muslims.  Those who said that should feel ashamed that they ostracized one of their own people.”

Moving Forward

These scary threats didn’t stop Bukhari from trying to achieve her dream.

In an interview with David Sapsted, Bukhari said, “Muslim girls don’t enter competitions like this because Islam does not permit it, but there is so much more to it than looking pretty.  I want other girls from Muslim communities to feel they can do this.”

In response to the controversy, Paula Abbandonato, the national director of Miss Universe Great Britain said, “It’s good to see that our Miss Universe Great Britain final this year will reflect the multiculturalism of modern British society.  Girls from all corners of the country, from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures, will all get an equal chance to represent Great Britain at Miss Universe.”

Bukhari made it far into the finals in Great Britain, however, she didn’t receive the nomination to compete for the crown at the international Miss Universe pageant.

Bukhari continues to model, host television shows and dress the way she wants without shame.

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