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Why is everyone talking about Shaun King?

The activist's conversion to Islam has resurfaced old accusations that King's past advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement was insincere
Shaun King accepts an award onstage during Rihanna's 5th Annual Diamond Ball benefitting The Clara Lionel Foundation in New York City, on 12 September 2019 (Dave Kotinsky/AFP)

Shaun King, an American writer and activist, has been in the news again this past week. His recent conversion to Islam, which he did along with his wife, kicked off a storm on social media. 

"Grifter extraordinaire, Shaun King aka Talcum X, takes the shahada literally 24hrs ago, and already he is monetizing it. Are some Muslims really that stupid?" one person wrote on X. 

King, wearing a keffiyeh, and his wife Dr Rai King, both embraced Islam at a community centre in Texas one day before the start of Ramadan, with Omar Suleiman, a well-known imam, by their side. Many Muslims on social media rejoiced.

King credited his decision to the “past six months of suffering, pain and trauma that we’ve seen in Gaza”, referring to Israel's war on the enclave.

“It has touched me in the most profound ways to see people right now in the most dangerous, traumatic place on the planet still be able to sometimes look at nothing but rubble and the remains of their family, and still see meaning and purpose in life.”

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“Their faith and their devotion to Islam has not only opened my heart but has opened the hearts of millions of people around the world,” he said when he converted.

But then, others began posting on social media.

“In Islam, you have to seek forgiveness from the person or people you’ve harmed, you can’t just expect Allah’s mercy when you haven’t addressed the harm you’ve caused,” one person wrote on X. 

“Shaun King's grift with the Christian church is over, so now he's converting. He's such a con,” wrote another.

But why has King elicited such strong backlash in the first place? 


King is the CEO of The North Star and the executive director of the Grassroots Law Project, a nonprofit organisation that has collaborated since 2020 with progressive district attorneys in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco to establish commissions focused on tackling systemic harm stemming from law enforcement and prosecutors in those urban areas.

In the past, King has raised money for the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout his years as a social justice activist raising awareness for various injustices around the US and the world, King has faced criticism over his fundraising efforts.

Middle East Eye reached out to King for comment on his conversion and the criticism he has received, but he did not respond by the time of publication. 

King has been highly successful in raising funds for the families of certain victims and for his own projects, a factor that has prompted some to label him as a grifter, despite never facing charges of misappropriating funds.

In 2013, King allegedly charged people $49.99 for "Life Goals University", where he said he would teach people how to take charge of their lives. He was accused of not following through on those commitments and the website shut down.

Then in 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy was killed by police in Ohio for carrying a toy gun. In 2021, King posted an article he wrote regarding a conversation with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir. 

In a discussion with theGrio at the time, King described his conversation with Rice as “positive and warm”. He explained that the encounter was arranged following interactions between members of their teams who aimed to see Tamir's case reopened.

King noted that the meeting led to daily communication between their staff thereafter.

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Then, Rice released a statement, saying: "I never gave you permission to raise anything."

She added, "Along with the United States, you robbed me for the death of my son.”

Someone who attended the Zoom meeting later posted screenshots of the meeting, defending King. 

In 2019, King sent an email to a young Black activist, warning that unless she deleted a tweet about him mishandling fundraisers that he deemed "defamatory", he intended to take legal action against her.

Within this email, he mentioned retaining the services of four attorneys to proceed with the lawsuit against her.

According to his critics, he did not actually hire any of those lawyers “but instead used their names and his relationship with them to threaten Clarissa into submission”, in reference to Clarissa Brooks, the activist.

“The fact that we still have to yell about Shaun King being a bad person after all these years is proof that no one has ever listened to Black women when it comes to anything actually important. He’s the most transparently insincere person, this is stupid as hell,” one person wrote on X. 

But despite the allegations, King has never been charged with misusing funds. In fact, he encourages people to reach out to the police or their district attorney if they have any proof that he has misused funds. 

In 2019, King offered his critics “an unfettered look at his finances”, detailing the $34.5m collected since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, through a “team of experts” named the Shaun King Financial Review Board. 

This board asserted that there was “absolutely no evidence” of misconduct by its founder.

The board elaborated at that time, “We searched, and we asked.” 

They said that, “No single family, charity, cause, or campaign said Shaun was ever compensated directly or indirectly for his online fundraising.”


A day after his public conversion, he announced the Uncensored Iftar tour with professor and author Khaled Beydoun - who is no stranger to controversy himself - with general admission costing $60 and premium tickets costing up to $120. 

People began to tell others not to spend that much money, labelling the event with the pun, "Griftar". King defended himself on Facebook, saying that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the charity, Human Concern International, and would go straight to Gaza.

“All of it. We never touch it. We say this at every event. The charity says this. They have even removed their own fees and percentages to make sure that 100 percent of the money donated at each event goes ONLY TO GAZA.  We’ve raised millions. And are proud of it,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“The idea that me and Khaled Beydoun are pocketing the money we raise at these events is outrageous. The charities themselves would NEVER go for it.”

Hassan Wadi, the global director at Human Concern International, wrote on Instagram that money raised through the events has gone to Gaza.

“I would suggest you attend and observe before you judge especially in the month of Ramadan. Let’s be positive and not push people away please," he wrote.

He added that the events are nothing lavish; they are done “theatre style” and there are no fancy decorations, “just a banner”.


King also launched a LaunchGood page raising money to provide hot meals for those fasting in Gaza. So far, the page has raised over $1m.

People on social media, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, caused a storm. But why? They argued that there is no guarantee that the donations will even go to Gaza. 

King defended himself on Facebook and said: “I have people in my life that I am accountable to. Boards. Mentors. Staff. Compliance officers. Family. I will NEVER attempt to prove to anyone online that I am ‘really a Muslim.’ I am putting my heart and soul into Islam and it is now the centre of my life.”

“Stealing from people or causes or charities is a crime. If you believe I am doing this, TURN ME IN. But if all you do is make Instagram posts saying I’m a thief, you are showing off for attention. Call the police. Call the attorney general or district attorney of your city and state,” he added. 

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