Sami Zayn and his long-time friend Kevin Owens successfully defended their Undisputed Tag Team Championships against Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa at WWE Night of Champions. It was a memorable event for Zayn, who wore a traditional Arabic garb and spoke Arabic to the Arabian audience. “We’re in an Arab country, we have an Arab champion, we’re gonna do this in Arabic,” Zayn told the hyped-up crowd.
Sami Zayn is a Syrian Muslim; his parents immigrated from Syria to Canada in the 1970s
Sami Zayn (real name: Rami Sebei) was born to Syrian Muslim parents on 12th July 1984 in Quebec, Canada. Zayn’s parents immigrated from Homs, Syria, to Canada, in the 1970s.
He told Al Arabiya English that he grew up dreaming of fighting in the WWE but didn’t have an Arab wrestler to emulate. Zayn stated that his appearance in the WWE is crucial as it shows Arab youth that they, too, can wrestle at the highest levels. The wrestler explained:
“If you were in Arab you had mothers who wanted you to become a doctor or an engineer and it was the same with me. I perform so that kids watching television can see themselves represented and that their dreams and goals are attainable.”
Zayn doesn’t hide his Arab ethnicity – his tights feature Arabic text and the Syrian flag. “If I’m ever asked about it [his ethnicity], I have no problem telling it,” Zayn said.
Zayn told the outlet that he’d traveled to Syria once as a young boy. The wrestler revealed that civil war had displaced some of his family members. “It’s been 18 years since I’ve last visited. Obviously I’m from Homs so it’s a disaster now unfortunately and it breaks my heart. I haven’t been back there but I never forget where I came from,” he stated.
The WWE star partners with the Syrian American Medical Society to provide mobile healthcare to the residents of northwest Syria. Zayn has helped raise over $130,000 to purchase two mobile medical clinics. The clinic provides medication and access to medical professionals, including a nurse, a pharmacy technician, and a general physician.
Zayn recently visited the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Alongside photos of his pilgrimage, he tweeted: “Being a pro wrestler and being with WWE has taken me to places I never dreamed I’d get to see and do things I never thought I’d get to do. It has provided me a life filled with incredible experiences that I will cherish forever. This one is at the top of the list.”
Zayn is committed to changing the negative perception of Arabs
In February 2017, Zayn told ESPN that he grew up seeing Arabs portrayed negatively. Zayn told the outlet that he never related to the villainous Arab characters he often saw on television. “I’ve never watched those Arab villains in the movie and felt like it was me,” Zayn said. “They were nothing like me.”
Zayn told ESPN that he’d take advantage of his platform to change the negative perception of Arabs: “It’s definitely a sensitive topic to discuss, but I have felt since I signed with the WWE I was in a unique position to reestablish how Arabs were perceived in the WWE and western media.”
“With a platform that big, and with an opportunity this big, whether you want to be a role model or not, this puts you in a position where you have to be your best; it’s really your duty to be the best that you can be,” Zayn continued.
Zayn protested former President Donald Trump’s effort to ban travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, including his native Syria. “I can’t articulate how truly disgusted I am right now,” he tweeted. Zayn also stood in solidarity with the Muslim community after an attack on a Quebec mosque killed six worshipers. “My heart is with the Muslims of Quebec,” Zayn tweeted.
Zayn’s plan to shift perceptions isn’t complicated – he hopes that by being himself, people will see that Arabs are ordinary, friendly human beings. “I try not to put pressure on myself to be seen as ‘the good Arab guy’ but really I’m just being myself,” he said.
Due to his Syrian heritage, Zayn was prevented from performing in Saudi Arabia for several years
Zayn’s 2023 appearance in Saudi Arabia was his first since the WWE started hosting shows in the country in April 2018. During an appearance on The Blindboy podcast, Zayan said he didn’t know why the WWE excluded him from performing in Saudi Arabia:
“I don’t know. I don’t know the specifics on this. To this day I didn’t really ask because I wasn’t really keen on going anyway. I just wasn’t invited to go and I never really dug into it too much because I wasn’t keen on going, to begin with.”
Zayn didn’t admit it, but he likely knew that Saudi Arabia’s tense relationship with Syria forced the WWE to exclude him from events in Saudi Arabia. It’s no coincidence that Zayn’s first appearance in Saudi Arabia happened after Syria’s readmission into the Arab League and the country’s resumption of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.