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. Faiza

    To many muslims living in america and alos born here that is what we consider ourselves to be- american. as a muslim myself, I am pleased to see the media depictin muslism in a good way instead of those nubby terrorists. even though she was raised a little different than I was, at least it is known that muslims are open to other traditions and others beliefs. when its christmas time I go and see the lights and such and make my own thanksgiving banquet. every muslim is different, based on thier personality and their personal beliefs.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JJJ

    Lebanese -American, African American, all these hyphens are bunch of non-sense
    My son is 50 % dominican, 25 % spaniard, 25 % cuban and 100 % American.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Roger

    Congrats Rima! Way to stand up for what you believe even though you are going to get judged by the Muslims because you celebrate Christmas and the ignorant folks who do not like Muslims. Way to be open about Religion because a lot of RELIGIOUS people feel like their religion is the right one.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lynn

    I PERSONALLY KNOW THAT PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT LOOKING INTO EVERY LITTLE THING LIKE RELEGION ARE SO JEALOUS THAT SHE IS BEAUTIFUL!
    BY THE WAY I AM MUSLIM AND MY FAMILY CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS AND MANY MORE MUSLIMS ARE DOING IT NOW A DAY. SO WHO CARES IF SHE DOES OR DOES NOT THAT IS HER CHOICE IN LIFE NOT YOURS.
    I REALLY THINK YOU ARE JEALOUS OF HER SO STOP PICKING ABOUT EVERY LITTLE THING ABOUT HER MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. I HATE PEOPLE WHO LOOK INTO EVERYTHING, BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO LIFE AND SIT AROUND JUST TO MOCK PEOPLE, YOU NEED TO GET OUT AND ENJOY LIFE AND PICK ON YOURSELF NOT HER.

    May 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • levelheaded

      ...hit the caps lock key one more time

      May 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Homer S

    I was raised having almost half my friends Muslims. They shared our holidays and we shared theirs. You don't have to believe in a religion like its followers do, but you can still be respectful and try to find common grounds instead of fighting. I've been to mosques before, and my Muslim friends been to churches as well. And what is amazing about that is, despite all hatred in the world today, we are still friends and one family after all these years.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      Kudos. Treating people with respect & dignity, despite our differences is never wrong and it does not breed hatred and intolerance.

      May 22, 2010 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. a young Muslim

    actually you dont know what you are saying .... she exactly knows what she is saying. She represent many of us, surprised huh?
    so News for you, you dont know what you are saying because i am a Muslim and I have been celebrating Christmas for many many years.
    Why not ??. why not celebrate holiday with my christian friends, or any religion for that matter. Celebration is celebration, its love and friendship.
    I celebrate eid and Christmas both with family and with my Muslim kids,and yeah I buy Christmas presents for my kids. why not?
    why ? we honest, peace and loving Muslim have to be EVER scared of fanatic Muslims.
    I am glad and proud of what she is saying. She is not denying her faith, she is not apologetic at all, she is not ashamed of her origin.
    She is HONESTLY proud to be AN AMERICAN FIRST. Like many of us who truly are but may not always say out loud.
    and its about time ....
    She is a good thing happening in bad times ... dont judge her, because you are NO ONE to.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • dontgetmuchattention

      muslims are allowed to celebrate christmas too... i know that for a fact bcs muslims celebrate the birthday of many prophets including Jesus. the Quran talks about Jesus alot in a very positive respectful way.

      May 22, 2010 at 6:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      Kudos to you as well. As usual, it is our young, enlightened generation that will move the change in society forward. I am an atheist and I celebrate Christmas. It's my favorite holiday. Food, parties, friends, family, presents! What's not to like? I don't observe any religious or spiritual traditions, but it is a time to celebrate the connections you enjoy with other people. And, I certainly don't wish for others not to observe their spiritual beliefs, unless they seek to harm or force me.

      May 22, 2010 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Lourdes

      I really, really like what you said. You mentioned key word that are essential in a good community. You mentioned "love, celebrate, gifts, friends, family". That in itself describes God.

      May 24, 2010 at 4:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. tokyosubway

    I don't see why religion matters anyways. I'm not muslim but I'm glad she's Miss USA because what she is saying is America, we are not one country of one religion, one skin color or one culture, America is everyone, everywhere.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peacafist

    As a muslim, I respect all faiths and celebrate the diversity of beliefs that is found in America. Christmas, Hannukah, Divali - the whole lot of them. There's nothing in my faith that prohibits me to do so. I can't understand what the brouhaha over Rima celebrating Christmas is - a lot of muslims in my family do that, it's even a holiday in some Islamic nations. It's really sad that people are letting their biases be influenced by their own prejudices.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lucia

    I don't like her, she wasn't the most beautiful, others girls were most beautiful than her like Miss Colorado and many others She had a big nose. What is wrong with this Country. now with Muslim president and Muslim Miss USA.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leon

      You're ignorant. She is an American and she's our new Miss USA. She's a beautiful girl.

      May 21, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • GET A LIFE

      GET A LIFE YOU MUST BE A LOW LIFE LOSER THAT IS SO UGLY THAT IS WHY YOU ARE SO JEALOUS OF HER. GET A LIFE LOSER LOOK AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR BEFORE YOU TALK. YOU MUST HAVE A BIG NOSE IS THAT WHY YOU MADE THAT REMARK. YOU SEEM LIKE A LOSER TO MAKE A COMMENT LIKE THAT!!!

      May 22, 2010 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • dontgetmuchattention

      dude... i think theres something u gotta pay attention to here... obama is a pretty smart politian... and rima is a very smart pretty woman... could it b that they r both there cuz they r simply PRETTY smart!??? listen to rima talk, shes where she is now bcs of her beauty and brains, and thats very unsual! obama is ugly yet VERY smart, which makes up for his uglyness loool. and being a muslim isnt the problem, we got christians that also problematic, but that doesnt make us ALL of us bad ppl... i have tons of great muslims friends and i guarantee u, islam has been misrepresented infront of the world by some idiots like bin laden and sadam.

      May 22, 2010 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
    • levelheaded

      rip him apart for reverend wright AND accuse him of being a radical muslim?
      please pick a side and stop sounding ridiculous.

      May 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mohamad

      Do not let jealousy eat you!!!

      May 22, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whiteathame

      Lucia, I'm sure they have bigger boobs .... in your home state.

      May 23, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. me

    I can't believe an iraqy is miss usa now she's gonna be funding terrorists. What a buncha stupid worthless beauty pagent judges we have huh? Stupid like the president stupid like the police stupid like white people. F#%kin retards.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Homer S

      I pity you, your ignorance, and your hate.

      May 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • sssimon

      So glad you stopped by to make yourself and all the half wits who think like you look stupid.

      May 21, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • GET A LIFE

      YOU ARE A BIG LOSER GO GET SOME EDUCATION SO YOU WON'T BE JEALOUS OF BEAUTY IN THE WORLD...

      May 22, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • dontgetmuchattention

      ummm shes not iraqui, shes lebanese, but more importantly AMERICAN...
      and she needed to sell her car to enter the pageant... and i dont think the money she will make as miss usa will b enough to fund anything more than extra make-up... seriously dont b a hater and support ur new miss brain america...cuz shes got brains and beauty.

      May 22, 2010 at 6:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Nerts

      Successful Troll is successful.

      May 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • white

      why not?????Arab women are alot more beautiful than women of other races.

      May 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Geriman

      Me- Hmmm let me see if I can guess your race and IQ with the comments you made. I think if I threw a 40 of old E like a stick, you would go chacing after it like my dog. This is a good forum and with the comment about cops, we dont care if you just got busted for selling crack rocks outside of your apartment complex.

      May 22, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tim

    Me- amen to that!!

    May 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. baig

    It is a pity that to live in the US one has to keep on clarifying that you are not a muslim.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nick

    Someone is consuming this media, or else the media wouldn't be produced. So you can blame yourselves for their refusal to "label" her as American. She's American. To look for other labels is like fishing in a dead lake.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sssimon

    Smart, classy and Beautiful. Great job judges. Such a breath of fresh air after all those vacant blonde bimbos. What az huge step up from that Prejean one.

    May 21, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. kansonfer

    Unlike Sarah Palin she has a brain!!!!

    May 21, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
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