The nomination is notable because the majority of Rakim’s lyrics relate to his identity as a Muslim, which has gone on to influence other contemporary Muslim rappers.
A Conversation with TikToker and Content Creator Neebz Khan
Neebz Khan, a full-time engineer, TEDxNYU speaker, Salaam Nerds Podcast host, and founding member of Muslims against Hunger, an organization that works to provide a daily soup kitchen program for those in need, first went viral with a TikTok about the reality show “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” His post was an unexpected hit, but his platform grew even more when “Ms. Marvel” was released on Disney+ and Khan, a Pakistani American Muslim from Jersey City, began posting about it.
@watchwithneebz #realhousewivesofsaltlakecity #therealhousewivesofsaltlakecity #rhoslc #trhoslc #bravo #realhousewives #muslim #islam ♬ original sound – Watchwithneebz
Fann Staff: When did you start creating content online?
Neebz Khan: It was really funny. The whole thing started during COVID. I am a very extroverted person, I missed my friends and I had no way of really talking to them other than sliding into the DMs every day and trying to have conversations with them. So what I started doing was recording myself watching TV shows and reacting to them. And my friends really enjoyed it—they thought it was funny. I would mostly record myself watching ridiculous shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Real Housewives.” And … then one of the clips went viral—I think [it] got 13 million views. It was the housewife from Salt Lake City [who had converted to Islam] where she goes, “Assalamu alaykum bitches,” and I was just cracking up. And it was just so ridiculous. That clip of me reacting to that went viral. And once it did, I just got a whole bunch of followers that just like to watch me react to TV shows. I didn’t really show my face in the clips, it would just be me pointing out something or me talking.
But then when I found out “Ms. Marvel” was coming out, I was like, “Okay, I need to build up some street cred. I need to make sure people know that I’m a voice that people can listen to.” I’ve watched every Marvel movie that’s ever been made. I mean, I’m a fan of the comics and cartoons, everything. I read a Miss Marvel comic, and I [thought] I’d rather people get the information from a Pakistani who lives in New Jersey and has the last name Khan, who can really experience the same thing that people in the show experience, rather than just some random white person who was talking about the show [and] doesn’t really connect with the culture.
I carved out a little space for myself and I got a bunch of followers. Once I hit 100k, it got really popular. I think a week or two before “Ms. Marvel” came out, I was on Twitter, and a bunch of people found me on Twitter and I had a few theories, which ended up being right, which was really fun. And I [also] got invited to these really big podcasts like “Phase Zero” and others. That’s where people got to know me, and it just started there.
Fann Staff: You mentioned “Ms. Marvel,” which helped your account take off. The show gave a pretty big platform and focus to a lot of South Asian and Muslim creators. How was that experience for you?
Neebz Khan: It was really cool because I had never got that kind of attention before. I feel like people of color generally don’t get that kind of attention. A lot of it I think is due to some people in the Black community and Hispanic community who decided, “Hey, we should make space for people who are of that culture to speak about it.” So what they’ll do is they’ll retweet people there, repost people, they’ll start following creators instead of centering themselves. These communities are really good at doing that. Some communities are not as good as doing that. So it’s one of those things where I always give credit to the Black community because they lead the way for a lot of the stuff that we do. They’ve gone through it, they’ve learned, and we can have the benefit of learning from their growing pains. So I definitely feel that that’s one of the reasons why people were like, “Oh, look at all these creators, they’re saying to go to him.” It sent a lot of people my way, and I was happy to answer questions.
I was happy to answer questions about Islam. I was happy to answer questions about Pakistani culture, weddings, what a Nikah is; all of that stuff was really interesting. And it was a lot of fun. I feel like there are people who get to open the door but they don’t shut it on the people behind them, but keep it open. I think they’re the reasons why we have gotten this how far this how far we’ve gotten.
Fann Staff: What’s the best thing to come out of your experience so far as a content creator?
Neebz Khan: There have been a lot of cool things. A lot of the time, my audience is not all Muslims. A majority of them are 40-year-old middle aged white women who watch reality shows. Those are my followers. Then there’s a second half that are Marvel fans. A lot of the time I am the first and only interaction they have with a Muslim which is wild to me in America, in a melting pot like this, that wouldn’t be possible, but it’s so true. It’s so accurate. I get to share that experience with people and share it with them in a way that’s not from Fox News, and it’s not from scare-mongering newspapers. And it’s really cool for me to be able to share this with a lot of people and change their mind about a lot of things.
Even when it’s something as silly as reality shows, right? I made this joke about how “Love is Blind” and “The Bachelor” are just appropriations of rishtas and Desi culture. We do stuff like this all the time, so it’s not a big deal. Getting married after a month? That’s nothing. [They’ve] got nothing on my parents. It’s really interesting for me to share that with people who don’t normally see that. I do enjoy that portion a lot.
Even things like the Partition. So many people had no idea what the Partition was. They had never heard of it. I got to break it down and explain to them. We did a whole two-hour podcast with a psychologist on the Partition. It was really, really amazing. A lot of people who normally would not listen to something like this, decided to check it out because they thought “Oh, this is Marvel. This is Neebz. Let me see what this is about.”
Fann Staff: Do you ever feel like it’s a burden or too much to take on to have to explain Islam or your culture?
Neebz Khan: Yes and no. I feel like social media is a burden in general. I am on a mental health break right now, to be honest. I haven’t done a TikTok or my podcasts in two or three weeks. It just gets a little too much at times. I even left the Creator Fund because I did not like the fact that monetary values were combined with how much views you get. When I put them together, then every time a video doesn’t do well, I feel like a failure. So I left the Creator Fund. I kind of just do it for fun now. And that is a privilege—I recognize that—because I have a job and I don’t need to make money off TikToks. It can be a strain on you, [so much so] that you need to take mental health breaks and they’re very important. For a lot of people, taking a mental health break means losing money, and that’s really, really tough. I don’t think people realize the difficulties of social media. I didn’t when I was like “Oh, all these influencers have it so easy.” But when it’s your only source of income, there’s a lot of pressure on you.
Fann Staff: Is there a TikTok or podcast that you shared online that you were surprised resonated with people?
Neebz Khan: It’s so random, the stuff that goes viral sometimes. One time I just casually said: “You know what? “Final Destination 2” is the greatest horror movie of all time, because when was the last time you have ever seen somebody drive behind a truck full of logs?” It’s something that just goes crazy viral, right?
There are some videos where I’m just thinking about [random] stuff. I talked about movies like “Back to the Future.” People think “Back to the Future” is about time travel. I [think] “Back to the Future” really isn’t about time travel. It’s actually about healthy masculinity, because you see how his father was being bullied and picked on and he didn’t have a lot of masculinity, and because of that, the entire trajectory of his life changed. Marty was too toxic with his masculinity, so that’s why he got into that car accident and all these bad things happened to him. People would call him chicken and he wouldn’t back down. Then the third movie is where he learns to balance, and that’s why it’s the most important movie.
I think that was a TikTok that went viral and people really resonated with. So it’s never really me talking about Desi culture or me talking about being Muslim. It’s random stuff. TikTok is so unpredictable. I’ll put hours into a “Ms. Marvel” video, and it won’t do well. I’ll put like 30 seconds of thought into a question about the original video that goes viral. So it’s really strange. It’s hard to predict.
Fann Staff: You have never been afraid to call something out in your comments or on TikTok. Is that something that is important to you?
Neebz Khan: Not particularly. It’s really about asking, “What is the impact of this?” If a lot of people are leaving these harmful comments and people in my comment section are seeing them and they’re feeling a certain way about it, I’ll speak up. A lot of the time, I’ll see some antisemitic comments in my comments section, and I feel like as a Muslim [it] is important for me to call it out and not let that slide. There’s things I let slide because I don’t have the energy for it, I don’t have the patience, or some people aren’t just not worth it. Then there’s some where [a] comment can be really harmful, and I need to address it instead of just deleting it. I’m not afraid to delete comments too. People think that you have to leave every comment people make, but your page is not a democracy: it’s a dictatorship. You can remove whatever comment you want. No one is telling you that you have to leave them up. It’s the United States of Neebz over here.
Fann Staff: What’s your favorite underrated Muslim character? Any genre is fair game.
Neebz Khan: Oh man. This is an easy one because one of my favorite characters is Sheriff Hassan from “Midnight Mass,” which I think is an incredible representation of a Muslim. It’s done so well. [He is played] by Rahul Kohli, who isn’t a Muslim, but he did a lot of research on his own. He says his best friend’s Muslim and he directed him. And there were two consultants on the show that were Muslim that basically helped Mike Flanagan [the creator of Midnight Mass] add layers to the character, but also made sure that they were representing Islam in a good light.
It’s really interesting to see a Muslim character in a supernatural show, a TV show about zombies and monsters, then have religion in it too. …You also see [Sheriff Hassan] struggle with the fact that his son is losing faith in Islam. I think one of the lines he says is “You don’t have to find God. You already have him.” It’s really, really cool and an incredible line. I love that show and I think it’s one of the best representations I’ve ever seen. It’s very underrated.
Fann Staff: There was this conversation about “Ms. Marvel”’s djinn storyline, a debate about whether Muslims should be included in shows or films dealing with the supernatural when they could be mishandled. But you mentioned that Sheriff Hassan was also in a show about the supernatural. Where do you think people should draw the line?
If we had more representation, then bad representation … [would] get diluted in a sea of Muslim representation. But we don’t have a sea; we barely have a puddle.– Neebz Khan
Neebz Khan: It is a very fine line on what should and shouldn’t be presented. I think a lot of these issues can be solved with more representation. If we had more representation, then bad representation on a show like “Ms. Marvel” wouldn’t be such a huge factor because it’s just another show. It [would] get diluted in a sea of Muslim representation. But we don’t have a sea; we barely have a puddle. So when you see something like Ms. Marvel, you see djinns, and you see Orientalism, and all that stuff. That’s the majority of the puddle, right? People don’t see anything else. So it’s really hard to dilute any of that bad representation.
You got to get the right people behind the scenes to direct it and write for it. You can’t just put a Muslim actor in there, put a Muslim character in it, and [think] you’re done. You have to be responsible with the content that you put. A lot of people don’t like Muslims in any kind of supernatural or superhero stuff at all. I respect that. But for me, I think that stuff is so far beyond the scope of what reality is that I don’t think it really matters. No one’s going to watch “Ms. Marvel” and think you can get powers from an amulet or bracelet. I don’t think that’s a real possibility that somebody has. But djinns do exist, they do possess people. These things are things that people believe. So it’s a fine line on what you can and can’t show. I think it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
What some people do is they code characters [as] Muslim. There’s a lot of people in Star Wars that are coded Muslim but that’s a different story. Some people code characters [as] Muslim just to not step on any toes, which I think is fair.
But it really depends on responsible representation versus good representation. Responsible representation is [where you think], “What is the effect this will have if I do this? Will this have a negative effect on people?” Having a Muslim superhero who doesn’t wear a hijab is not going to have a negative effect. A lot of Muslim women don’t wear hijab. That’s not something that I think is irresponsible. It is an accurate representation of a Muslim in New Jersey, in my opinion. But things like getting her powers from djinn, then people don’t realize that every time she essentially uses her power, she’s committing sin or shirk. That is something that a normal person wouldn’t know, but a Muslim would. So it’s definitely a very fine line.
Fann Staff: What do you wish people knew about you?
Neebz Khan: Sometimes, I wish people knew less about me. Sometimes I share too much on TikTok, but I’m someone who just tries my best and tries to help as many people as I can. I’ve done a TED Talk a while ago. It’s mainly about work-life balance, and finding your goals, and charity, and traveling, and how to live your best life. I’ve been someone who’s always tried to live my best life.
One of the things is to be your authentic self. A lot of the time I am my authentic self on TikTok, which is probably why I’ll be in a hoodie or whatever—I’m not glammed up. I don’t have speeches written out, I’m not reading off the teleprompter. I’m just sharing my opinions. And sometimes my opinions will evolve. Sometimes I’ll be wrong, especially when it comes to Islam. I’ll feel like [something] doesn’t make any sense to me, and then I’ll watch somebody else explain it in a way where I think that that makes sense, and I was wrong. I’m just learning to be my authentic self and just stumbling towards success. I’m like a little baby crawling toward success. [Have] you ever watched “Baby’s Day Out” where the baby is just running past all the danger and just happens to find success? That’s me. I just happened to stumble towards success.
Fann Staff: Anything else you would like to add about your experience on TikTok?
Neebz Khan: I think one of the best things about Tik Tok and Twitter is the community. Sometimes you take it for granted. You share something about your life and you’re feeling really down and you say, “You know what, I’m not gonna make content for a while” and you’ll get tons of people saying, “Hey, take the time you need, it’s all good.” It is a community. Community is what’s important. Your followers don’t matter. Your likes don’t matter. Your views don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the community you’re building, and it’s your responsibility to make that community as safe as possible for the people in it.