By Farrah Hamid
July 13, 2009
elan’s first-ever “Profile” features Wajahat Ali, a Muslim-American blogger who has risen to Internet fame as an authority on Muslim culture in the United States, and through his cleverly named Goat Milk Blog. In the following interview, Wajahat shares the motivations behind his writings, his start as a Muslim blogger, and his plans for his pioneering play, ”The Domestic Crusaders,” (slated to debut in New York City on 9/11 this year).
Q. How did you get into writing in the first place?
I fell into it! After I graduated from law school, I couldn’t find work for the longest time – it was freakish almost. I was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency because I was just sitting at home, stewing. I thought, “You know what I’ll just start writing, let me see if I can interview Seymour Hersh.” Somehow I hustled and got his number. I put up the article and got 5,000 hits off of it in two weeks. Over a period of one year, I published over 50 articles. I had no money, no contacts, just a laptop and the goal to create my name by creating quality work. When I look back I can see that my earlier work is filled with flaws, but there is a vibrancy and an excitement and passion to that writing.
Q. What made you want to start the Goat Milk Blog and become a writer, especially since you are a lawyer by trade?
I had zero ambitions with this blog. I just wanted a warehouse for all of my articles. I kept the name “Goat Milk” because it was my AOL screen name in high school, and of the independent political party I created at UC Berkeley. I didn’t even know what the blogosphere was! Now I get calls from the Associated Press and the Carnegie Foundation, who look at me for the pulse on the Muslim scene.
Q. Your play, “The Domestic Crusaders”, will be debuting in NYC on 9/11. What do you expect the impact to be?
I intentionally chose the 9/11 date because it is a global reminder of the violence and tragedy that occurred on that fateful day, and the need for tolerance amidst the chaos woke us all up. It did change the discourse and the narrative and the perceptions of Muslim Americans, as it put us firmly underneath a microscope. Yet, 9/11 is a great date to have conversations so we can continue the healing. One of the great blessings of art is that it allows you to get your defenses down and absorb and hear viewpoints that you wouldn’t otherwise, because it’s a fictional family so people don’t feel as threatened.
Q. Why did you choose the play format for your message?
Yet again, I was pushed into the pool and had to learn how to swim. My teacher in college said “I have Muslim friends and I’m tired of seeing the stereotypes. I want a nuanced, detailed portrayal of the Muslim-American experience.” I spent two months just thinking about characters and came up with a rough idea of the plot. Every month or two he’d ask me for 5 more pages. I started on my 21st birthday and finished on the 23rd birthday as a present to myself.
Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Muslim community?
That’s a thesis question! There are a few things. Religious authority – who has it, who wields it, who speaks for us. The people who hold the conch are not necessarily representative of the mainstream Muslims, yet they are the ones who gain the notoriety. Inter-Muslim conflict when it comes to race and religion is also an unspoken challenge. There are a lot of Muslims looking down at one another and judging one another. Everyone is on their path individually and separately, so we have to work together as a community of diverse individuals. Identity is also a big challenge. But that’s okay – every minority group has gone through this, and right now it’s our turn.
Q. Complete this sentence: On Sunday mornings, the first thing I do is________?
Du’a that I can get more sleep after I wake up. I say, “Oh God, I wish I could get more sleep.” I am an old man wanting to get some more rest!
Q. What was your nickname as a child?
Waja-the-Hut. I was a fat kid growing up. My friends call me Waji – nobody calls me Wajahat. My nickname is Wajoo. The only time somebody calls me Wajahat is when somebody is pissed off at me. That’s when I know that something serious is going down.
Q. What was your first job?
My first job was taking a bucket with some cheap-ass soap and a sponge and walking around the neighbourhood and trying to convince people to let me wash their car so I could afford 7-11 Slurpies.
Q. What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
Let’s see…I know I don’t need money – I can do without it. I am only child so in a weird way I can also live without people. I suppose in rough times in life, I always need hope. The one thing you can’t live without is faith in oneself, drive and ambition. You need to have that “Insh’Allah” in your life. Without that, you’re done.
Photo by Faiza Ali