Former WWE star Muhammad Hassan is no stranger to controversy, as he is responsible for portraying one of the most controversial WWE characters of all time.
The gimmick started with Muhammad performing as an Arab-American pro wrestler looking to shed the prejudice and stereotypes created by the 9/11 attacks. Further into the run, on the July 4, 2005 SmackDown, a segment involving Muhammad, The Undertaker, and multiple masked men dressed in black shirts, ski-masks, and camo pants created a wave of negative media attention. This was in-part due to the fact that just 3 days later, the July 7 London bombings took place.
Muhammad was gradually removed from SmackDown per the request of UPN, the network hosting the show during that time. Hassan did have a brief run on the independent circuit, but he recently told Chris Van Vilet that he is completely retired from the ring.
“I didn’t get over wrestling until probably 10 years later. I probably didn’t get over wrestling until I got back in the ring a few years ago. And I remember people asking me questions about why I did that, they thought it was some planned thing like I was going to go back to WWE,” Hassan explained. “No. I think I was 38, I needed to see if I could still do it. And I did it, and it was actually fun, I had a blast and then I’m like I’m never doing this again. I just needed to do it. And that’s when I started to get over wrestling and that’s when I think I started to mend.
“It was a huge loss. It was a huge heartbreak. And I think it took me a long time. And then I started a couple of years ago to do a few interviews here and there, I really hadn’t done much since,” he continued. “I guess I started to stop avoiding it because of how it made me feel, the thought of failure and everything that had happened from the character. I was always proud of it but now I don’t feel that when I talk about or think about wrestling.”
If the London bombings had never occurred, Hassan believes that the character would have continued his mean streak until the negative media started.
“I think so for a little while until we started to push it too far. It was the masked men, it was treating Daivari as a martyr, it was carrying him out martyr style,” Muhammad said. “It was everything about the character that was starting to draw heat with media, with Muslim American groups and eventually it started to change this heat from this genuine heat where the fans loved to hate this character to something that became a bit more. A little more political.”
He admits that in a more politically correct society like today, Muhammad Hassan would be a character he can’t see himself trying to portray. He thinks the progression from an Arab-American who wanted to represent his people well to a radicalized, violent person would go over poorly with viewers.
“I don’t think I could. I know there’s been some different versions of the character but I don’t think I could. And I don’t think the character could be done the way it was done 15 years ago,” Hassan explained. “I think it was insensitive. It became very insensitive towards Muslim Americans and Arab American people.
“The way that the character changed from being this Arab-American who was upset at the unjust treatment of his people to a more radicalized Muslim and Arab young man who was lashing out violently, I don’t think that would be appropriate at this time,” he continued. “I don’t think that would be fair to portray any Arab American or Muslim American in that way. So I don’t think the character would work in that capacity anymore. Some version of it, maybe. But not that version.”
Muhammad recalls multiple instances where people in everyday life were afraid simply because he was on the same path or airplane as them. He understands that a lot of this prejudice was because the United Stares was a few years removed from 9/11.
“What was this, 2004? We were just a few years removed from 9/11 and I remember a few instanced. One I remember was San Francisco,” Muhammad said. “I can’t remember the name of the hotel, Shawn (Daivari) and I were on the path walking from the parking lot to the hotel entrance and a lady was walking towards us and we had the full gimmick on and the glasses and my suit and 230 pounds at the time, so we looked intimidating. She took her daughter off the path and walked like five feet away.
“I mean there was plenty of room for us on that path but she was scared,” Hassan said. :And one time we were on a plane, Shawn and I, and we were sitting towards the front and I think it might have been Shelton. Somebody came up and told us that towards the back of the plane people were calling their families to tell them that they loved them. So there were times when there were people who were really frightened and honestly it made playing the character pretty easy.”
Hassan believes that a combination of his gimmick, his manager, and the veterans that helped push him were all perfect fuel to the fire in getting him over in WWE. He thinks back to the 7 month journey he experienced working with the company.
“I wouldn’t say one of the greatest heels of all time. There were a lot better heels than me,” Muhammad admitted. “Maybe on a relative basis for the 7 months [I was in WWE]. But I also had a great gimmick, I was pushed to the moon, I worked with some incredible veterans who wanted me to succeed, who wanted me to do well because they wanted to make money with me.
“So I was very fortunate for the position that I was put in and I was with Shawn Daivari who was great,” he added. “Shawn was a heat magnet. I would not have got the heat that I got without Shawn. And I think that’s why the character did so well for that 7 months because it was a character that people loved to hate. It was genuine hate and genuine heat.”
Hassan was close friend with the late Shad Gaspard, who tragically passed away earlier this year while trying to save his son from drowning. Muhammad revealed that the two have created a graphic novel together, and the proceeds are going to Shad’s family during this difficult time.
“It was in Los Angeles that I started writing a screenplay with Shad Gaspard which is actually a graphic novel by Scout Comics. We spent years writing that screenplay and that was another thing, ups and downs,” Hassan said. “We almost got it made into a film and then we took a break for a couple of years and Shad came back to me and had this idea that he wanted to turn it into a graphic novel.
“And if you anybody knew Shad, what Shad wanted to do, Shad is going to do… and in May, Shad tragically passed away. I think everybody knows the story of Shad and the heroic actions that unfortunately led to his death. So Scout Comics had this idea to release an edition early, just the first book, but a tribute edition for Shad. It’s available at ScoutComics.com. I want to sell these out, because all of the proceeds from this go to Shad’s family.”