“King of the World” Explores the Life of a Muslim Desi Punk After Sept. 11

Kominas guitarist Shahjehan Khan narrates the flagship podcast from Portland media company Rifelion.

“I was a really shitty Muslim,” Shahjehan Khan narrates in the first episode of the podcast King of the World. Khan is referring to himself in his late teens and early 20s: a self-described stoner kid and college dropout.

It feels harsh to put that statement on a kid. And once you really get caught up in King of the World—which takes its title from the meaning of Khan’s name—the personable narration makes it nearly impossible to judge the sweet, depressed youth that Khan describes.

Khan was only 17 when the Sept. 11 attacks happened, and the first episode, which debuted Sept. 1 of this year, recounts the day from Khan’s perspective, explaining the ways the attacks fundamentally changed how he interacted with the world and it with him.

Though Khan grew up in a majority white Massachusetts suburb about 30 minutes west of Boston, it wasn’t until after the attacks that he recalls anyone actively, physically harassing him for his perceived race or religion.

As Khan moved on to college, at UMass Amherst, the paranoia he felt about the new, unwanted label of Muslim Arab weighed heavily.

“Just to be clear, Pakistanis are not Arabs.” Khan says on the podcast, as if settling some old score. “The term Arab refers to an identity based on culture and language, so not all Arabs are Muslims, not all Muslims are Arab.”

Khan’s family is from Pakistan, so the word he uses is Desi, which he explains means “from the country” in South Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

And while the narrator notes this with fire, the lost youth he describes spirals into a deep depression.

King of the World has an obvious tell in that the seven-episode narrative podcast is voiced by Khan—so you know he’ll be OK eventually.

“I am a musician and an actor. I have a degree in community social psychology. I’m also a person in long-term recovery from addiction,” Khan tells WW.

As he says this, Asad Butt, the owner of Rifelion, the Portland media company that produced the show, interrupts: “He’s being modest. He co-founded this internationally renowned South Asian punk band.”

Rifelion has one other podcast series—an ongoing show called American Muslim Project, which spotlights Muslim actors and artists you may not have heard about. However, Butt considers King of the World to be the company’s flagship podcast.

Rifelion intended to finish the series on Khan’s Oct. 13 birthday, but Khan announced on Oct. 6 they were taking extra time to make the final two episodes “as strong as they can possibly be.…That’s the cool part about being an independent company. We make our own rules.”

So now is an excellent time to dip your toe in King of the World, which Khan has so generously allowed use of his interesting life—as a road map for exploring the experience of feeling like an outsider and perhaps Khan’s way back.

LISTEN: King of the World streams on multiple platforms, including iTunes and Spotify.