Bashir Ahmad: Muslim MMA star appalled by 'the cult of Donald Trump'

    Story highlights

    • Bashir Ahmad is a Muslim American MMA star
    • Served in U.S. forces before return to Pakistan
    • Hits out at Donald Trump over "hateful" remarks
    • Next fight is in Indonesia on February 20

    (CNN)If Donald Trump and his Republican rivals had their way, people like Bashir Ahmad would never step foot in the United States.

    A Pakistan-born Muslim who moved to the U.S. at the age of two, Ahmad served in the American forces during the Iraq war in 2004 -- the scene which would witness the birth of his Mixed Martial Arts career.
      His parents swapped Lahore for Great Falls, Virginia, and Ahmad says he grew up without facing the prejudice that has accompanied some of the recent rhetoric surrounding the recent GOP debates -- rhetoric that has left him feeling "isolated" and "degraded."
      Now, as Pakistan's most famous MMA fighter competing in Asia's ONE Championship franchise, Ahmad has both the profile and the platform to speak out.

      'Hate'

      "When I hear somebody like Trump, it's like a comedy," Ahmad told CNN.
      "It's frightening that he has taken control of the American mob -- that's what his whole campaign is based on.
      "It was like, 'Who hates Muslims more?'" he says of the debates between the Republican party candidates.
      Ahmad, who runs the most successful MMA gym in Pakistan out of Lahore and retains business interests in the U.S., may be what he terms a "global citizen" but the upsurge in attention surrounding the American Muslim community has shocked him.
      While he spends much of his time working and competing abroad, the man known as the "Godfather of MMA in Pakistan" keeps an eye on the country for which he was prepared to lay down his life in Iraq.
      He was the man his unit in Mosul would look to in order to reassure locals; his presence and the name on his uniform would often defuse potentially dangerous situations.
      Yet, now, the same name that once proved so valuable on the streets of Mosul in saving American lives is now the one he believes is being targeted by those who feel Muslims should not be allowed to enter the U.S.
      "I couldn't believe it was 2015 and I was listening to stuff like this -- you wonder how much of U.S. society is being influenced by thinking like this," he says of the GOP debates.
      "The fact Trump gets support hurts my heart a bit. One of the greatest ways towards peace is for people to sit down together and realize they're not so different."

      Trump

      Trump, one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, announced last year -- in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, by suspected ISIS sympathizers -- that he would ban Muslims from entering the U.S. "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
      He has also previously called for surveillance against mosques and said he was receptive to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S.
      For Ahmad, who makes his living fighting with his fists rather than arguing with politicians, those kind of policies take him back to his time at college.
      After returning from Iraq to complete his political science major at George Mason University in Virginia, he encountered students who he said had little understanding of the real problems.
      Describing himself as "very skeptical of the intentions of the government and what was happening in the world," Ahmad says his time in the midst of the action focused his mind.
      "When I got back to college I just got fed up with so many people talking about something they know so little about," he says.
      "I used to get engaged in these political conversations about Iraq but after coming back it was a little bit pathetic hearing arguments from people who had never been outside the classroom.
      "They could have been the guys going on to make the decisions of the future and yet they'd never see the consequences. I kind of detached myself after that."

      Army

      Ahmad joined the National Guard in 2002 after listening to a recruitment talk at his college.
      He says he decided to live by his mantra that he did not want to wake up one day and wonder, "What if?"
      It was then that he headed off to training, though the prospect of seeing any action remained thin.
      "The National Guard training was like being in one of those 'Police Academy' comedy movies," Ahmad jokes.
      "I was one of the most serious guys there. Going to Iraq? We didn't even get to go to the gas station.
      "So when I returned to college after training, I didn't really expect much."