Mustafa Ali was interviewed on the latest episode of the Secret Life of Muslims web series this week, and spoke about how he fought against playing a stereotype as he got into the wrestling business.
"When I tuned in, 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," Ali continued, as the video showed him in his early independent wrestling days. "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 something inside of me is always an uneasy feeling. I remember seeing a young boy, maybe six-seven years old. And I 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?'
Ali said that was the turning point for him as a wrestler.
"And 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."
Ali said he persona now is about changing people's minds and fighting back against stereotypes and prejudices. The Chicago native first joined the WWE as an alternate for the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016, and eventually became a fan favorite on the 205 Live roster. On Sunday at Fastlane he was a surprise addition to the WWE Championship match between Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens.