Storytelling podcast shares American Muslim experiences since 9/11

Boston voice-over actor Shahjehan Khan says he will never forget what a classmate asked him at high school on the morning after 9/11: “What did your people do?”

A Pakistani Muslim of immigrant parents, Mr. Khan said that moment in Boxborough, Massachusetts, changed the course of his life, deepening his drift toward depression and substance abuse.

“I had an awareness all of a sudden of my otherness,” Mr. Khan told The Washington Times. “My Muslim Pakistani identity became the most important thing about me in this predominantly White town where I lived.”

Now 38, he brings his story to “King of the World,” a seven-part storytelling podcast featuring the real-life experiences of American Muslims in the 20 years since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Mr. Khan was a high school senior heading to a math class when the first airliner crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan. He said the attacks gave him “an extra sinking feeling” as people around him began to suspect families like his of being potential terrorists.

He described a “therapeutic process” in telling his story via the podcast while interviewing professional historians and childhood acquaintances, including his high school psychology teacher.

“I grew up as a pretty standard suburban American kid, but then 9/11 changed everything,” he said.

In the first episode, Mr. Khan describes his childhood growing up in a family of five inside a predominantly White suburb of Boston.

He says the “identity crisis” that arose from neighbors associating “Islam” with “terrorism” led him to feel powerless despite his given name “Shahjehan” literally meaning “king of the world.”

The independent podcast’s unvarnished approach and public radio-style production values have made it a surprise hit with listeners.

Listen Notes, a San Francisco-based search engine, currently ranks “King of World” in the top 5% most popular shows globally out of 2,722,362 RSS-based public podcasts.

Rifelion produced the show to challenge “negative perceptions of Muslims in the media by elevating diverse voices that celebrate a broader human experience than mainstream media currently elevates,” according to promotional materials.

Asad Butt, founder of the Portland-based storytelling company, said the podcast resonates with American Muslims who have weathered a post-9/11 cultural backlash for the past 20 years.

Mr. Butt, a childhood friend of Mr. Khan who is also a Pakistani Muslim, said he was questioned at airports “three or five times” in the early 2000s.

But he said American Muslims accepted and adapted to the post-9/11 security climate as best they could, allowing them to survive and thrive over the past 20 years.

“That was par for the course with American Muslims in those days,” said Mr. Butt, 42. “Everyone has an airport story.”

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