Gold Star dad wins Arab-American civil rights award

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Dearborn — When Khizr Khan was asked to speak at the Democratic Party Convention last summer, he never expected to become a celebrated figure.

Khizr Khan speaks Thursday during the annual Arab-American Civil Rights League gala at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center.

The Pakistani immigrant, whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, 27, was killed in Iraq 12 years ago, took the stage and criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed policies — including a temporary ban on immigration by Muslims. He famously asked whether the New York real estate mogul had read the U.S. Constitution and offered to lend a copy.

The billionaire businessman later tweeted that Khan “viciously attacked” him, then implied that the Virginia man’s wife, Ghazala, stood quietly on stage at the convention because of their Muslim faith, which sparked widespread condemnation of the attack on a “Gold Star family.”

Khan’s bold move at the convention earned him and his wife an award Thursday at the annual Arab-American Civil Rights League dinner. But he insists the outpouring of support they’ve received since their public stance truly reflects the nation and its citizens’ values.

“This is an indication of the goodness of America,” he said.

Khan shared his message Thursday night during the ACRL’s 5th Annual Fight for Justice dinner at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

He and his wife, who was unable to attend, received the Courage in Public Service award during the gathering, which drew hundreds of dignitaries and guests, including community leaders, officials and activists. The Rev. George Shalhoub, who is based at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Livonia, received the Rehab and Ahmed Amer Lifelong Pursuit of Justice Award.

The nonprofit rights league, which aims to protect Arab-American civil rights and liberties, chose to spotlight the Khans because of their courageous example to others, said Nasser Beydoun, the group’s chairman. “With the election and the rhetoric, more and more people are worried about their rights and civil liberties,” he said.

Khan’s stance also helps counter negative perceptions of Muslims, said Helal Farhat, an attorney and league board member. “His voice has started a revolution. ... People are seeing Muslims for what they are: part of the American landscape.”

During the dinner, the league detailed the lives of the Khans, who were both born in Pakistan, but relocated to the United Arab Emirates before moving to the United States.

Khizr Khan autographs a copy of the U.S. Constitution for 19th District Judge Mark Sommers.

Khizr Khan, who studied at Harvard Law School, has founded a pro bono project to provide legal services for the families of military members, associates said. He and his wife also continue to support the Army ROTC, with which their son, who died in a suicide bomber attack on June 8, 2004, and posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, was active.

When Khizr Khan pulled out the Constitution at the convention, it symbolized a brush to “dust off injustice,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the NAACP Detroit Branch.

Khan suggested the key to strengthening bonds in divisive times lies in celebrating diversity such as what is found in Dearborn and Metro Detroit.

“This community, this city, its leaders, its citizens, are the embodiment of the value of true America,” he said.

Khan did not name Trump but urged the crowd to reject his ideas. “We are not for building walls; we are not for divisions,” he said. “Make sure that this election, you go to your precinct with this thought in mind: that today I am going to stand for the values of America, for the values that we practice in this community.”

His words heartened Waad Charara, a Muslim from Dearborn in the audience.

“I was blown away,” she said. “It’s good to hear Muslim-Americans speak out. It’s really encouraging.”

Khan’s impassioned call “reminds us all that this country is all about. It is about freedoms, it is about liberty, it is about the pursuit of happiness. It is not about division,” said Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk, the leader of the Islamic Organization of North America. “… To be reminded of these values that we cherish so much, it gives us the enthusiasm to work harder toward the fulfillment of those values. It makes the community want to follow in his footsteps and not be in your home and brushing off the election.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.