Belal Muhammad hopes to use prominence to educate fans about Islam
He was born in Chicago, wrestled in high school, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana. The son of immigrants, his is a midwestern path well traveled by Knudsens from Norway and Derns from Germany. But Belal Muhammad is of Palestinian extraction, which changes some things.
‘Remember the Name’ started MMA after college graduation and went undefeated as an amateur. Then he turned pro and went 9-0, before getting signed by the UFC.
He lost his league debut vs. Alan Jouban, but won a $50,000 fight of the night performance bonus. However, a weird thing happened during the fight.
Muhammad rebounded with a TKO win over Augusto Montano in September and fights Vicente Luque at UFC 205.
Muhammad, now 28, realizes he has an opportunity to become a role model for Muslim Americans. The UFC is a big stage. President-elect Donald Trump had intended to be Octagon side, but the NY Post reports that his Secret Service detail is trying to talk him out of it over security concerns.
“When I first started my career, I didn’t really think about it,” said Muhammad. “But now when I got to the UFC and before when I became Titan champion, you start getting messages from people telling you, ‘We love what you’re doing, we love the message you’re conveying.’ I didn’t think that people would look at me like that. Now that I do see people looking up to me and kids thinking of me like that, it does feel good. It makes me want to do better for them.”
Muhammad is a fighter, not particularly politically inclined, and no big fan of Hillary Clinton, but expressed a degree of alarm at some of Trump’s speeches during the election.
“Trump will sit there and say crazy stuff and that’ll get normal people who would probably hide it in, they’ll start coming out and saying crazy stuff, too,” he explained. “They’ll think, ‘This guy is running for the presidency and he’s talking crazy. So maybe he is right.’ You start noticing your Facebook friends saying, ‘[Trump] is right, eff these Muslims,’ and I’m like ‘What?’
“Now I’m just hoping he doesn’t go through with half of what he was saying. But I doubt he will anyway. He’s just one of them guys that talks. I don’t think he’s gonna do anything anyway.”
The election did serve to instill in Muhammad the desire to be a positive role model for Islam, in a country that needs them.
“A lot of people don’t understand what being a Muslim is and they don’t understand what it means,” he explained. “You just see what you see on the news. But meeting someone like me in person, a Muslim, they’re like, ‘Oh, I thought all you people were mean’ or something like that. It’s funny. I try to change their mindset. A lot of people have never even met a Muslim. They just know what they see on TV, like ‘these guys are all crazy, they’re all terrorists, blah blah blah, their religion tells them to kill people.’ Then they meet me in person and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re a really nice guy.'”
“I just want to go get to a higher level and let people know and convey a message of peace, that we are not like that. Our religion is about peace and not everybody is crazy and nuts.”
“I’m looking to make a statement there and make some noise there, especially with all the big names on the card. If I go in there and steal the show, it would be huge.”