“When you were in Kindergarten maybe, you said “Amma, can you wash my hands with some soap so that they become white like everybody else’s?””
These are some of the first few lines that lead us to the introduction of the podcast titled “King Of The World.”
The podcast dives into the experiences of a young Pakistani-Muslim American in the United States, and also speaks to the collective pain and resilience of people of colour, and communities who suffered repercussions after the September 11 attacks.
5X Press spoke to Shahjehan Khan, the voice behind the podcast, and Asad Butt, the CEO of Rifelion Media ,who produced the 7-part podcast series.
Khan, whose parents immigrated from Pakistan, grew up in the suburbs of Massachusetts. He explained the story behind the podcast and its title, which is mainly derived from Shahjehan’s name, as it literally translates to “King Of The World.''
“I often joke about this that my parents actually had the audacity to name me Shahjehan, which is pretty rare and literally translates to ‘King of The World/ Master of the Universe.’ Asad and I reacquainted after several years, and he had just started Rifelion. We were tossing around ideas and we both did not like the working title that we had,” said Khan.
Butt added that the intro inspired the title.
“Shahjehan had written the intro for the podcast where he talks about the meaning behind his name and we collectively decided that it would be the perfect name for the show. It encompasses identity and lots of other things that we talk about in the podcast,” he said.
The pair said that the podcast was years in the making, but what really pushed it was the heightened social justice movements that took place all around the globe, following the murder of George Floyd.
It was then that Butt realized how important it was to give voice to communities that did not have a platform, starting off with the American Muslim community.
“Shahjehan has also been doing something in this space for quite some time, as a musician and as an artist, so he was the first person I reached out to. He was onboard from day one,” he said.
“I wanted the podcast to be more historic, but once you hear Shahjehan story and the impact of 9/11 on the immigrant Muslim experience and how it is still relevant even 20 years later, it all fits perfectly together.”
For Khan, the call from Butt came at the time when he had just had an incredible creative experience working and being in the same room as Meryl Streep and Leonardo Dicaprio.
Despite being initially exhausted about the idea of working creatively on a project concerning 9/11, it made sense for Shahjehan to tell the story from his perspective, in his own way.
The attacks of September 11 caused the number of hate crimes against Muslims to increase exponentially. The incident ruined many lives and even today we see the continued impacts being felt by the Muslim community.
We asked Khan about what the purpose of the podcast was.
“It was hard to talk about these things but it was extremely therapeutic for me. It is meant to be cathartic for all those who were affected and continue to be affected, but also a big fuck you to the narrative that says that our experiences don’t matter,” he said.
“The attacks were brutal and painful for the entire America, but our experiences, the Muslim lives that it ruined afterwards, counts as well.”
Islamophobia in America has been extremely prevalent, but very little has been done to actually address it. In the arts, Muslims have been misrepresented, and it wasn’t until people like Hasan Minhaj and Riz Ahmed came forward to talk about it, that it was actually seriously considered as an issue.
We talked to the team about whether they were seeing a change in terms of something being done about Islamophobia.
“When we started telling our own stories rather than having other people tell them, that’s a part of the change. Today in my other interview, I was talking about a normal experience for me, which is getting profiled at the airport,” Khan said.
“Their jaws dropped because they never experienced this. I got stopped at the airport every single time for 16 years and in the grand scheme of things that have happened to people that I know, it was a blip. We can’t rely on “them” to tell our stories, and by them I mean white media executives, or non-Muslims. We are sort of done waiting around and instead telling our own stories. That’s a part of change.”
Asad adds that these experiences take a toll on the mental health of the community.
“On some days we are supporting and lifting each other up and on other days we just curl up in a ball and just cry,” he said.
“9/11 changed the shape of Muslim mental health in America. It had a huge impact on us, even if we did not have people we knew who died on that day. We have suffered the consequence in some way shape or form. But one great takeaway from this is that as a community we are resilient, and we are thriving in every field despite the challenges.”
The first episode of the podcast launches on September 1. You can learn more here.
About the author: Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on Instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.