Long Islander Kevin Shakil launches America’s Islamic Radio, the first station of its kind, with hopes to amplify the voice of Muslims in the U.S.
It was a normal sunny afternoon over seven years ago when Long Island native, Kevin Shakil, was on his way home from high school. He was behind the wheel of his 2003 BMW X5, when suddenly another vehicle ran a red light at 110 miles per hour. The impact from the hit Shakil experienced was nearly fatal, as he and his car ended up facing the complete opposite direction of where he was driving.
“I had a dog tag of Allah’s name hanging in the windshield, and I lost it about six months before the car accident,” Shakil says. “Firefighters opened the door saying, ‘Are you still alive?’ When I got home from the hospital, I found the Allah dog tag right in the seat.”
What Shakil thought he lost was actually with him the whole time—hiding in the seat of his beamer—even in that near death experience that left the firefighters wondering how he made it out breathing.
“That opened my eyes—Islam is true. Allah is true,” Shakil says. “I started learning about the religion and fell in love with it.”
Although Shakil grew up in a Muslim household with his Pakistani father and Uruguayan mother, he looked at his religion in an entirely new way following that terrible 2011 crash. He fell so deeply in love with Islam at that moment in his life, that today he shares the deen with anyone who will listen.
He does that through America’s Islamic Radio, a station he launched this past summer on Mixlr, an online platform providing users with an opportunity to broadcast live audio.
The idea first took hold three years ago when Shakil and his wife, Asia, had a conversation during a car ride. She expressed a desire to have a radio station for Muslims, playing Quran, nasheed, and talkshows discussing topics relevant to the American Muslim community. A revert to Islam from Catholicism herself, she thought a radio station special for Muslims would be a cool alternative to the many music stations that already dominated the airtime. Shakil shrugged off the idea, thinking it simply was not feasible for their community to claim such a thing as their own.
“I spoke to a lot of influential Muslim people, and they were just like, ‘No, it’s a waste of time. Don’t even think about it,’” he says.
But in July 2018, Shakil bumped into one of his future partners, Luis Mendez, a prominent figure in the Hispanic community. Mendez has his own web-based radio station running out of Mineola, N.Y., and he encouraged Shakil that starting one centered on Muslims was worth a shot.
With help from Mendez and another friend Jorge Guzman Jr. (two non-Muslims who interestingly enough believed in the Muslim radio station idea more than many Muslims, as Shakil points out), Shakil went live with America’s Islamic Radio the following month starting with an audio stream of the Holy Quran.
“The day that I actually launched on August 18, 2018 when I hit the play button for the Quran to start playing, I just broke down in tears,” Shakil says. “Let’s say this radio station doesn’t kick off at all, let’s say it all fails…at least the Quran is playing. Those are the words of Allah.”
Shakil hopes his radio station will serve as an ongoing charity for him, a sadaqah jariyah. That after he passes away, the Quran will continue to play on this Mixlr app, and eventually on other platforms as well once the audience grows.
In addition to the holy recitation being broadcast of the famous voices in Makkah and Madinah, Shakil and his team are working on talkshows that address various topics relevant to the Islamic community for both Muslim and non-Muslim listeners. These include Quranic exegesis explained by learned local scholars, mental health in the Islamic community, current events on both the local and global levels, interviews with prominent figures in the community, and much more.
“I want to give Muslims a voice in today’s society and tell non-Muslims, ‘Hey, we are here. We are Americans as well. We are just like you,’” Shakil says.
America’s Islamic Radio then serves two purposes: 1) to provide a voice for the American Muslim community on a platform different than the public has seen before, and 2) to educate listeners about Islam and American Muslims.
Shakil says with every day, he receives feedback. He acknowledges right now, he and his team are testing the waters. But so far, so good.
“Anytime I tell anybody about America’s Islamic Radio, you see the pride in their eyes. They’re just like, ‘Whoa! We have a radio station now? That’s so cool, how can I help? How can I be a part of it?’” he says.
Getting involved is simple. Firstly, become a follower of America’s Islamic Radio on the Mixlr application. After downloading the app itself, all one has to do is search “America,” and the station comes up. Click follow, and then of course, share and encourage others to do the same.
The question must be asked, however, why radio? In a world where sadly traditional media is dying out, why choose this method of broadcast?
“Nobody has done it before,” Shakil answers, referring to a specific station for American Muslims.
While that may be true, Shakil does have plans to set up cameras in his Mineola recording studio and broadcast the radio talkshows live on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The recordings will then always be available online for any listeners who couldn’t tune in at a certain time. In a world of Netflix, accessible content 24/7, and personal instant gratification, this is a necessary route one would be foolish to ignore.
Already, America’s Islamic Radio has some shows loyal listeners can catch up with, including sit-down interviews with prominent public figures like New York State Senator Jose Peralta and nasheed artist from the United Kingdom, Omar Esa.
As the station is in its early stages at the time of writing, exact programming schedules are still being finalized. Prerecorded shows are slowly being churned out for listeners to get a taste of what America’s Islamic Radio is all about—and at a larger scale, what American Muslims are all about.
“We have a voice. We’re here. We’re the fastest growing religion in the world,” Shakil says. “It’s okay to be an American, and it’s okay to be Muslim. They go hand in hand.”
The two identities, contrary to the current rhetoric spewed by many existing media outlets and public officials, are not mutually exclusive, and it’s how over three million people across the United States identify, including Shakil himself.
Who would have thought that near death car crash back in 2011 would result in such a love for Islam and desire to share it with others? The event in Shakil’s teenage years is a perfect example of something good coming out of an otherwise outwardly terrible event. As the hadith mentions, “How wonderful is the case of a believer? There is good for him in everything.”
And what can be a better result of an event than conviction in one’s faith and in one’s Lord? Simple—taking that conviction and turning it into something from which the entire community can benefit. That’s exactly what America’s Islamic Radio is.
A version of this article was published in the January/February 2019 issue of Islamic Horizons.