May 21st, 2010
09:19 PM ET

Miss USA says 'American' is her preferred label

"Religion does not identify me," Miss USA Rima Fakih tells CNN.

Rima Fakih's beauty pageant sash declares that she is Miss USA, but journalists want to find other labels for her.

Questions about Fakih's ethnic and religious identity have been nearly as frequent as questions about photos of her dancing against a stripper's pole.

"I'd like to say I'm American first, and I am an Arab-American," Fakih said. "I am Lebanese-American, and I am Muslim-American."

Fakih, 24, was born in Lebanon, but her family moved to New York when she was 7 years old. She later moved to Michigan, where she went to college.

The rarity of a woman born in the Middle East representing the United States in the Miss Universe pageant spurred internet buzz. One rumor was that Fakih had family connections to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite group that the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization.

"Absolutely not," Fakih told CNN's Octavia Nasr. "That is a stereotype and a prejudiced statement made by only one reporter who had made that title before I was crowned Miss USA."

The blogger's accusation "was completely made up out of her own prejudiced mind," she said.

Contrary to some reports, she said, her family did not live in Southern Lebanon, the hub of Hezbollah.

"We lived in the mountain area of Lebanon, which is predominantly Christian-based," she said. "The majority of my family is diverse. It's Muslim and Christian."

Fakih said religion should not be a question for Miss USA winners.

"Religion does not identify me, I would like to say that," she said. "My family is more of a spiritual family rather than religious. We've never been religious, we've been never known to be religious, and on top of everything, we celebrate Christmas."

Fakih attended a Catholic high school in New York, she said.

"We are Muslim," she said. "However, we appreciate and admire all faiths."

The reaction to Fakih's selection was cause for celebration for many in Lebanon, a country she visited just a few months ago.

"I want them to know that the United States is not what they see on TV," she said. "It is still a country of freedom and opportunity."

Fakih said she has been invited to visit Lebanon and meet with leaders there, including President Michel Suleiman.

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Filed under: Lebanon • Showbiz • U.S.
soundoff (450 Responses)
  1. Fatima

    I also blame the media for this whole what-ever it is debate. The fact that they compared her to the women of Saudia during their pagent last year is like comparing apples to rocks, not even bananas! It's just not the same at all. And yes, Jesus is a very important figure in our religion, however I find it quite distasteful that she would use the term "Stupid" so easily with that giant crown on her head. She may want to be more careful with her words, even my 5 year old knows that's a bad word that should be refrained from use.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ben

    Where is my post?

    May 21, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. truth2power

    She is a beautiful woman.
    Everything else is unimportant.
    Unless you are some wing-nut redneck.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply

    @ Nick,
    in USA we can say, we are muslim ... you got it backward.
    no wonder so many non muslim think of us as "so bad" because of so many of your kind, who say america is not good but still LOVE live here.
    whats up with that huh?? you are not nick anyway ;)

    May 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. sssimon

    Do some people think that Christmas is a Christian holiday??? December 25th is the first day that a careful observer can see that the sun is finally rising north of where it rose the day before. This day has been recognized and celebrated by people of every race and ethnicity and religion for thousands of years. It is routine to assign the birth of a holy man to this day. All of the customs that we observe around this day are pre-christian. They are pagan. Christmas tree, lights, hollly wreath, mistletoe, yule log, hanging up stockings and exchanging gifts – all of these would have been familiar to the pagan tribes of northern europe long before the supposed birth of Jesus.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lourdes

      December 25th evolved into Christmas. SO WHAT!!! Everyday belongs to the Lord. This is the day that the Lord has made....

      May 24, 2010 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. Dan

    I want to hear what a real american strip dancer has to say. Any on cnn tonight??

    May 21, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cyndi

    I think that a Miss USA should be born in the USA. I feel the same way about government. To run a city, county, state or our great Nation, it should be a requirement that you should have been born in the United States.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • sssimon

      Why? Do you think that there is something special absorbed while in the womb from the air and water that influences ones development to produce a superior type of person?

      Or are you jsut an ignorant bigot?

      May 22, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Leon

      I don't agree that you should to be born here to be Miss USA. She grew up here and she is an American, so what's the problem?

      May 22, 2010 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |


      May 22, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      I think there was another country in history where people thought that one group was instantly superior to others by birth. Hmm...what country. They did that salute at a 45 degree angle thing. Hold on, I'll think of it. ;)

      May 22, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Nerts

      As ignorant as Cyndi's comment is, let's not resort to Godwin's Law.

      May 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • GeekQueen

      Given that this country was founded and run by immigrants, I find this opinion to be distinctly un-American. By your standards, we had un-American and inappropriate presidents until Martin van Buren (the 8th, for those commenters who may have never actually bothered studying American history). I guess Washington, Jefferson, and Madison should have just known when to quit.

      May 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      What about an illegal's children who were born in the US? Can they be a president of USA? Absolutely not! We need to rip off the citizenship of those illegal's children, otherwise, the world is going to be upside down.

      May 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vandy

      That's pretty closed-minded of you. Can't someone peacefully present an opinion without being called an "ignorant bigot". Part of what makes this country great is that we can have civil conversations...something to which you are not contributing to.

      You might want to check your facts. You're completely wrong.

      May 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. A Fan

    She is a beautiful woman and I'm happy to have her represent at the Miss Universe pageant. She owes no apology for anything. Of everything that identifies her, she sees herself as an American. I wish her all the best in the future!

    May 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mcgavock

    What a sweet and beautiful girl she is. She will represent our country well. And she's right we all should be an American first.

    May 22, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. In The Name of Jesus

    A sore thumb sticks out more than the other fingers. Likewise a bad muslim sticks out further than good ones. But remember there are always good and evil in every religion and also among the atheist. So who is to Judge?

    May 22, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Nick

    You know what bothers me, at their very core, religions all have a central tenant – a sense of love and duty, a shared sense of community, a belief in a higher power who loves all that that power created – i.e. tolerance. Many sad and insecure members of our society seem to have hijacked religion and made it into an absolutest – ur with us or ur a sinner. The weak use faith as a weapon to shield from change and the unknown and hurt so many in doing so. Would God put up with that? No. Miss USA is a beauty queen who will not rule the world or sabotage our way of life. She is a breath of fresh air who is abosolutely beautiful and at the pageant was forthright, poised and down to earth. Unlike Miss Oklahoma who was sulking in the press about her unfair question, Rima's strong sense of self would have made her a graceful looser had she not won. This girl has that special something and she is going to endure way beyond her pageant days. The Lebanese should be proud and so should everyone who has immigrated to this country. God gave us intelligence and beauty for reason and all those fundamentalist who are intolerant will have much to explain when they meet their maker for their awful hijacking of faith and spirituality. Rima is awesome!

    May 22, 2010 at 12:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • sssimon

      Very well said!

      I can see Rima actually having a life and a career beyong Miss USA whereas all the other bimbos have a couple of years to get by on their youth and land a rich husband or fade into nothing.

      May 22, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Me

    Wetbacks? NO! Iraqy miss USA? YES! Stupid white people make me sick. You smell like goat milk YUK!!

    May 22, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

      I know're that guy Salim from You Don't Mess with the Zohan, right? Miss your goat?

      May 22, 2010 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
    • dontgetmuchattention

      ignorant donkey... u misrepresent us

      May 22, 2010 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. Nick

    Leave the girl alone, quit labeling her, quit finding absurd reasons to trump up a scandal. Let her be the best damned Miss USA we all know she is gonna be. She was without a doubt the one and only choice that night and she should be proud cause she truly is rock star!

    May 22, 2010 at 12:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. cub77

    i'd tap that!

    May 22, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Nick

    Is Cyndi not the most moronic person on earth. Your skills and smarts make you a great leader not where u where born. Do u realize how many talented people will never become president because they immigrated to this country before they could even walk or talk – what a shame. Cyndi – you're an ignorant, xenophobic moron. If people go on about the USA loosing its power, its because idiots like Cyndi have the right to vote. Pathetic

    May 22, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse | Reply


      May 22, 2010 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |


      May 22, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba Abdullah

      No Cindy is not the most moronic person on earth. Michael Jones is. Yeah, likely name Michael Jones, you are dumb as a post. Cindy is dummy #2.

      May 22, 2010 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • David



      May 22, 2010 at 5:15 am | Report abuse |
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