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. Norm

    Here's a classic example of the lunacy of some cultures. The cover up such a God given beautiful human being has got to be a sin towards nature. This lady is so gorgeous. Why would you want to hide her from the world?

    May 22, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Harvey

    What this girl needs is a good foot massage.....

    May 22, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. m

    Um, am I missing something? It says she was born in Lebanon. Were her parents American? Were they naturalized when she was a child?

    If not, then she's not an American.

    Doesn't really matter to me but the word American should be reserved for those born here or naturalized. Just because someone grows up here doesn't make them an American.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joel

    If she was a Christian, I don't think if we could read something in the news like " A Christain-American" Christian-Lebanese American: never.
    Now all these about Muslim stuff is kind of ignorance, trust me. These Tea Parters needs more education , need to travel around the world and need to open their eyes and move on.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. OnTheBrightSide

    She is amazingly beautiful and obviously bright... I'm proud of this country because she represents another side of the status quot.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    People like to whine when others like to hyphenate their American heritage. When someone doesn't prefer to do that , the same stupid Right wing retards start crying about ethnicity.

    This country is over because the people don't understand their own ideals. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. cojones

    Miss Oklahoma, please get over your loss. Faux News keeps going with the Why she lost Miss USA crown over the immigration question. Only Faux News reports crap like this. GET OVER IT>!!!!!!!!!!!!! Life goes on.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bruno

    Hi, I French-Canadian. God Bless the USA!!!!!

    May 22, 2010 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. india

    respect all religions and faith. do not fight with each other, enjoy life and lets other enjoy too

    May 22, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. peacelover

    What has happened to America? Why would they be questioning every Muslim they see and accuse/doubt that those Muslims have/had connections with terrorist groups? Those of you who question Muslim people, imagine that you were in their place, how would you feel? Btw, I'm not a Muslim. I'm just pointing out the pressure that you are putting on Muslim people.

    May 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • pjlytle

      I would become a --Christian-– then their would be no questions asked.

      May 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • nnc

      I would become a –Christian-– then their would be no questions asked.
      listen budy these arew very good answer. Don't lie u r muslim, we know that

      May 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Doug

    Reading the interview, Rima comes across as smart, articulate and balanced. And of course she's beautiful. All of this, allied to her being a Muslim woman seems to drive some people to distraction. Already we have Miss USA 'birthers' demanding to see her passport. Anyone who sends the mouthbreathing Fox News-watchers into paroxysms of rage is fine by me. Congratulations Rima, and may this be the start of much success and happiness.

    May 22, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. JamesinAtlanta

    The new Miss USA is beautiful and a great representation of our modern melting-pot world. I'm sure my friends in Lebanon are proud. I'm proud of her as a milk-toast-looking white guy. If you're good looking enough or smart enough you can make it in this country...still.

    May 22, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. Fritos

    Hola Amigos:

    I love this girl! I think she is just the best representative the USA could have!
    We need more like her!! Congratulations to a beautiful young miss from Detroit!!

    May 22, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. nain tara

    you can do what ever you want....pose Nude for play boy bikini shoots...But dont call your self Muslim.....

    May 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • obama

      you stu*** go back to pakistan

      May 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. The Bill

    Definately a lose for the terrorists. This is a pleasant, lovely, charming young lady, of Lebaniese decent, and a liberal Muslim. Score one for America!

    May 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
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