Gold Star father Khizr Khan spoke to the UVa community Tuesday evening in Old Cabell Hall to discuss his Islamic faith and the future of the United States
Khan captivated the audience with his soft-spoken manner, humility, and honesty. The crowd greeted him with a standing ovation when he walked onstage. Khan was courageous, delving into difficult topics and allowing emotion to seep into his words. He almost lost his composure while recounting a letter he received from four fourth-graders asking him to “stop Donald Trump from throwing our friend out of this country.”
The Khan family gained national recognition this past summer when Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazala at his side, eulogized his son at the Democratic National Convention. Humayun Khan, U.S. Army Captain and UVa alumni, was killed serving in Iraq in 2004.
Conversation moderator Douglas Blackmon called Khan a “deeply sympathetic voice of millions of Muslim-Americans” and said that Khan has gone further than just discrediting Trump. Rather, he has started a new movement.
Khan knows the United States as a place of opportunity and freedom. When Trump’s comments and proposed plans in this election season seemed to threaten those liberties, Khan decided to speak up.
As a Pakistani immigrant, Khan moved to the U.S. with Ghazala in 1980 and earned a degree from Harvard Law School six years later. The married couple became citizens and had three children.
The Khans’ middle child, Humayun, attended UVa and participated in the ROTC Program. Khizr noted that he is so proud to have “raised a selfless son.” Humayun decided to join ROTC because of his admiration of other cadets’ honor, integrity, and dignity. Khizr credits his son’s character to UVa.
Knowing his son for 27 years and what he became here at the university, Khan said Humayun would have been standing right there on stage with him with “his left hand on my left shoulder” if he were still alive today.
Khan does not see the high caliber personality of Captain Khan reflected in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump’s claim that he would ban all Muslims if elected to the Oval Office concerned Khan. Friends with small children started asking Khan if they could really be deported. Their children stopped doing homework, eating properly, and sleeping soundly.
Questioning “why it is necessary that people of [his] faith are being treated with so much disrespect,” Khan validated the legitimacy of concerns with Muslims but condemned the “ugly rhetoric” surrounding and singling out of Muslims as “unacceptable.” Profiling Muslims on a whole as dishonorable people is unfair and inaccurate.
“The rest of the world is envious of our politics,” said Khan. “We ought to be cognizant of that.”
Saying that the U.S. leads mankind in history, Khan noted the potential of the country.
“Comparatively speaking, this is the best place with pluralistic values, yet there is so much room to make it better,” he said.
In Khan’s opinion, U.S. citizens are all responsible for improving the country and should take pride in it.
“We must keep it safe.”
As a compassionate representative of Muslim-Americans, Khan has become a new sort of poster child for the Islamic faith. Although at many times in the past, the Muslims speaking up were Imans, people with heavy accents, people who dressed differently, people who others found hard to relate to, Khan is not that way. He brings a new face to the movement.
“My faith has been hijacked,” Khan said. “I condemn all the violence. That is not my faith,” he continued.
As he sees it, two versions of Islam have emerged: his – the one of the nearly 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide – and that of extremists – the smaller group that has received worldwide recognition for its radical atrocities.
Khan believes that instead of discussing jihad and violence, people should talk about civility and inclusion. People of his faith ought to contribute to the community and educate themselves on what the sacred texts of their religion actually permit. However, it is the duty of everyone in the U.S. to be a part of this conversation.
This topic in particular has been one of many factors in a recent “un-American division” that has grasped the country. Khan called for it to end immediately. While he endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, he posed the question of how the U.S. is going to breach this national divide and ensure that this “ugliness” is not repeated, regardless of who wins the presidency.
With “civility and discourse,” Khan said, we can right the country and move into a more welcoming, inclusive, and strong future. The crowd in Old Cabell Hall surely left feeling the heavy responsibility of Khan’s urging, but also with the hope needed to begin changing the world.