Aliyah: WWE’s Arab superstar fighting to make history

Blazing your own trail is never easy.

One person that knows this all too well is Canadian professional wrestler Aliyah. The 27-year-old of Iraqi and Syrian origin stands out as one of the few Middle Eastern talents in World Wrestling Entertainment, and earlier this year became the first Arab woman to contest the main event in the company’s flagship show SmackDown, which has been running for more than 20 years.

“It feels surreal. This has been my biggest dream ever since I was a little girl,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Growing up, I would watch wrestling and didn’t really see anyone that looked like me or someone that was Arabic. I hope I could set a good example and inspire other Arab females to come join the sport that they want.”

Aliyah, whose real name is Nhooph al-Areebi, has been involved in matches with some of WWE’s top women since her SmackDown debut in November.

Aliyah’s parents, who moved to Canada in the early 90s, eventually accepted her choices. She says they are now her “biggest supporters” and also thanks them for instilling in her a sense of pride in her Arab roots.

Even before our interview, Aliyah gleefully spoke with our technical staff in her mother tongue. “We grew up in the house speaking Arabic and English,” she said afterwards. “When my dad emigrated to Canada, he tried to stay true to himself and the way he was brought up and keep that with us.”

She concedes, however, that balancing life on the road with important family events, such as those during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, takes planning.

Large dinner parties are part of the festivities for many Arab families, and she jokingly admits that food is perhaps her favourite part of her culture: “I love my baklava, shawarma, I love my tabouleh.”

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