WWE Editor @jeffersonlake
WWE's Mustafa Ali: I'm shattering negative stereotypes about Muslims
Last Updated: 14/03/19 10:31am
Mustafa Ali has spoken out about the challenges he faced in his wrestling career in portraying a Muslim in a positive light.
Ali, real name Adeel Alam and former Chicago cop, has been a revelation on SmackDown since moving across from 205 Live and on Sunday found himself in a triple threat match for the WWE title, against Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens at Fastlane.
But while his recent rise has been extraordinarily rapid, there was a long struggle in the early days, when promoters were keen to cast Ali as an 'evil foreigner', in keeping with one of the oldest character traditions in wrestling.
From the depiction of Sgt Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathiser during the 1991 Gulf War to the positioning of Muhammad Hassan as a terrorist in the mid-2000s, on-screen representations of Muslims have always caused controversy.
Ali, in an interview on the latest episode of the Secret Life of Muslims web series this week, spoke about how he has made it his mission to change that, a strategy which was not without its initial problems.
"When I tuned in (to watch wrestling), anyone of Middle Eastern heritage was always portrayed as the bad guy," Ali said.
"The evil foreigner, the terrorist. And I knew I didn't want to do that. In the initial stages of my career I was actually hiding behind a mask to hide who I was, but I was getting frustrated.
"I wasn't getting better bookings, I wasn't competing at bigger events. Several of my friends in the industry were saying, 'You know, now's the time. You should try it out, doing an evil character.'"
"And so was born Prince Mustafa Ali. He just had the whole head garb thing, yelling in a foreign language - and bookings went up.
"I was getting flown all over the US to compete, but inside of me was always an uneasy feeling. I remember seeing a young boy, maybe six, seven years old. And as I approached the guardrail he jumped out of his chair and he put is hands up (making a boxer's pose).
"And I remember looking into this kid's eyes, and I remember seeing hate. And right then and there it hit me like, 'Did I just teach this kid to hate people that look like me?'"
It was, Ali recalls, the turning point at which he decided he was no longer comfortable portraying such a character, even if it impacted negatively on his industry value.
"From that point forward I created a new character, Mustafa Ali," he said. "Mustafa Ali is who I wanted to see when I was growing up.
"I'm not wearing anything on my head, I'm not saying anything in Arabic, I'm just going to come out as Mustafa Ali.
"A lot of promoters were not happy with the new direction. It took me almost a year, really working hard for my actual in-ring performance, night-in and night-out. I had to prove myself all over again."
That proving ground would become a road which led to WWE and his current spot at the top end of the SmackDown card.
While Ali was unsuccessful in his title attempt at Fastlane he is very much regarded as somebody who will be a key part of the company's future - a future in which he plans to continue to be a positive role model.
"I want the next 16-year-old kid who looks like me to know he's not automatically the bad guy," Ali said. "Hopefully that kid can look at Mustafa Ali and say, 'Hey, he's not the bad guy, and I don't have to be, either.'
"Everyone in the world, regardless if they're Muslim or not, does not have to adhere to the label society slaps on you. No one defines you but you, and that's what I'm fighting for."