Memphis, Tennessee — Adeel Alam, better known by his WWE stage name Mustafa Ali, is changing perceptions in and out of the wrestling ring.
The storylines of pro-wrestling aren't complicated: good guys versus the bad guys. Arabs and Muslims have always been cast as the bad guys. So was Alam when he first started.
"I think the worst thing that ever got yelled at me while performing was, 'I thought we killed you Osama,'" Alam said.
One night, the former officer and father of two, couldn't shake what he heard from a fan and decided he'd had enough.
"There was a young boy of maybe 6, 7 years old. He jumps out of his chair and he put both of his fists up. And it hit me like a ton of bricks right there. I go, 'You just taught this kid to hate people that look like you,'" Alam said. "I've never felt more disgusted with myself."
He had to start all over again, trying to convince promoters in a post 9/11 America, that a Muslim "good guy" could work. Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer for the WWE, pro-wrestling's most successful organization, said Alam's success tells us something about where we are as a country.
"We're evolving as a company and hopefully do the right thing for our audience, our talent, that's what we want to do," she said.
In a world that's hardly a liberal hotbed, Alam's profile and fan base are both expanding. He said he's getting a renewed sense of optimism.
"I'm very, very hopeful," he said.
These days, we'll take hope anywhere we can find it, even in a pro-wrestling ring.