In 2004, WWE debuted the character Muhammad Hassan, an Arab American who was tired of being stereotyped following 9/11. Portrayed by Marc Copani, Hassan and his manager Shawn Daivari set out to fight the injustice against Arab Americans.
Though Copani is Italian American, he lived the gimmick off-screen, traveling around in character and full gear to keep up appearances, which led to uncomfortable situations for them and those around him.
"I had to wear the whole [outfit] in public. At the time, it was serious. We were just a few years removed from 9/11 and I remember a few instances; One, we were in San Francisco, Shawn and I were on the path walking from the parking lot to the hotel entrance. I had the full gear on and we looked intimidating. A lady took her daughter off the path and walked by us like five feet away. She was scared. One time, we were on a plane, Shawn and I, and we were sitting towards the front and it might have been Shelton [Benjamin], but somebody came up and told us that people towards the back of the plane were calling their families to tell them that they love them. There were times when people were really frightened. It made playing the character pretty easy because the things you feel dressed like that and being out in public and saying how people treat you -- that's how people treated Shawn. Shawn was randomly searched at seven out of ten airports -- feeling that and being exposed to that as a non-Arab, it was not hard to get into character and feel anger towards Americans and outrage at how unfairly people were being treated for things that were out of their control. That was a brilliant thing about the character, he was right in feeling the unjust attitude and it was easy to get into it," Hassan told Chris Van Vliet.
Hassan noted that he didn't receive any death threats that he knew of from fans and the only time there was a confrontation was at a bar when a group of Muslims were upset over the character and seeing him drinking.
However, if the character were around today, Hassan believes he would be a babyface.
"If I went out there and said those things today, I'd get a standing ovation. It was the truth and was how people felt in the country. It was unfair and unjust. Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, people were being lumped together as if everybody was a terrorist. Nothing of what we were saying, especially at the very beginning, I think people hated the character so much because he was exposing their prejudice that they wanted to deny," he said.
WWE dropped the character in 2005 after pressure from UPN following an angle where Hassan and a group of masked men choked out Undertaker with piano wire and carried him away. The angle aired days after the London bombings.
Copani was released in September 2005 and now works as a high school principal.
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