Fakih was born into a powerful Shiite family in a village in southern Lebanon that was heavily bombed during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. But she and her sister said the family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths and prefer to be referred to as Lebanese, Arabs or Arab-Americans.
She moved to the United States with her family in 1993 and attended a Catholic school in New York. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.
Her sister, Rana Faqih, who moved back to Lebanon a few months ago for a new job, said she spent the night exchanging messages with her father, Hussein, and another sister, Ruba, who were attending the competition.
"It was a beautiful surprise," she told the Associated Press from the family's native village of Srifa in southern Lebanon. "It was not easy for Rima to reach this title."
"We're very proud as Lebanese Americans and as Lebanese that Rima reached this point despite all the pressures and stereotyping about Arabs and Lebanese. She made it. She fought and reached her goal," her sister said.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, Fakih's crowning was greeted by some polite applause, but also some scolding.
Sheikh Farhat Mongy, a Muslim scholar in Cairo, did not approve of Fakih's strapless gown and even less of the fact that she competed in the bikini portion of the pageant.
"She has every right to show her husband and enjoy her husband," the sheik said. "She cannot do that outside her house. No one should be able to see what is underneath her clothes. A woman is only a woman when she protects herself and her body.''
Halima Nasr El-Shenawi is a masters journalism student at American University in Cairo. She also wears a veil, and she wasn't impressed with Fakih's title.
"I feel that there are other important things people should consider rather than crowning and praising her, people who actually have done something beneficial to the society than being beautiful," she said.
''What she is doing is against Islamic habits and tradition, but I cannot judge her," El-Shenawi said. "I believe each person will be individually judged and as we know there are a lot of freedom going on in the world and her doing this is not surprising.''
Eiten Zeerban, who is also workings towards her masters degree in journalism at American University, said she was pleased that an Arab woman won the title.
"It is good so people can see the many faces and images of the Middle East, that at the end of the day we have many similarities (with the West). It is 2010, we don't all live in tents and have camels," she said.
"It is better than hearing about a Muslim carrying out a terrorist attack. It's good to show that the majority of us love life and beauty of a woman,'' Zeerban said.
She was also curious why people considered Fakih's title to be big news.
''Why is everyone making a fuss about this? When we have beauty pageants. In Cairo or Beirut they wear bathing suits. I think in Cairo they wear one piece, but Beirut they definitely wear a bikini,'' Zeeban said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report