New Miss USA Once Won Pole Dancing Contest

Dearborn Arabs delighted with Miss USA, while overseas other Muslims scold.

May 17, 2010, 2:01 PM

DEARBORN, Mich. May 17, 2010— -- The triumphant walk for the new Miss USA took her straight into controversy as a Muslim woman who flaunts her beauty, and who once flaunted it so well she won a stripper contest.

Rima Fakih, 24, won the title as the country's most beautiful woman Sunday night in Las Vegas.

Shortly after the release of pictures showing Fakih cradling a dozen roses across her strapless white dress while balancing a shimmering tiara on her head, came photos of Fakih in red short shorts, a tiny tank top and towering stilettos while balancing against a pole.

Fakih won the "Stripper 101" contest which was sponsored by a Detroit radio show Mojo in the Morning in 2007.

Spike, the co-host of Mojo, said news of the pole dancing drew the attention of Miss USA's parent organization, The Miss Universe pageant.

"The Miss Universe representatives called earlier today," Spike told "They wanted to see if we have more photos or information."

"They couldn't tell us what their intentions were and we didn't want to give them anything that might cause her to relinquish her crown," he said.

Spike called the inquiry "ridiculous" because "she's wearing more clothes in the photos on our site than she was in those photos for the pageant."

He said the contest was run by actual strippers, but the contestants did not strip. "They're not naked. They're encouraged to wear comfortable clothes," Spike said.

Fakih won some jewelry from the show's sponsors and a take home stripper pole.

It was the latest controversy for the Miss USA pageant. In 2009, the pageant's winner was overshadowed by the comments of runner-up Carrie Prejean opposing gay marriage. She was later stripped of her title as Miss USA runner-up and as Miss California because of a sexually explicit videotape in which she appeared alone.

It's not clear yet if Fakih's earlier triumph will taint her Miss USA crown, but in Michigan people were beaming over her selection. The broadest smiles were on the many faces of Arab immigrants in Dearborn.

Miss USA Is a Muslim Immigrant From Lebanon

Fakih is a Lebanese immigrant and a Muslim. While the pageant was not certain whether she was the first Muslim or immigrant to win the title, her reign clearly comes at a time when many in the Arab and Muslim world are suspicious and hostile to America -- and believe that America is hostile to them.

The title also comes as there is increased scrutiny of the conservative Muslim practice of cloaking women in burqas or hijabs, all encompassing clothes meant to hide the woman's body from everyone except a woman's husband.

"It's so exciting. It's so amazing. I love it," gushed Fatan Fawzi, who is 32 and describes herself as a mother. "I'm so happy because I'm Arabic like her. She's so pretty. I saw her face on TV... She's so lucky."

Rana Aoun is 20 and lives in Fakih's hometown of Dearborn. "I feel like she represents all of us and we're so proud of her. She's beautiful, she's intelligent," she said.

"There's a lot of negative vibes about Arab American people and she's the perfect example of someone to represent us. She's very smart, she's very educated. She just won Miss USA, so what more can you say?" Aoun added.

Aniss Baydoun, a 24-year-old man in Dearborn, was equally pleased about Fakih's crown. "I'm proud to hear and see that somebody from the community is being acknowledged for their talent," he said.

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.''

Some in Arab World Scold Miss USA

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