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Khizr Khan, the father of a U.S. Army captain killed in action in Iraq in 2004, spoke at Muslim center about building bridges and breaking barriers.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Khizr Khan speaks at the Muslim Educational Trust's community center in Tigard on Sunday.Hundreds packed the Muslim Educational Trust's community center in Tigard Sunday night to hear a man many, if not all, likely would not have recognized just a few months ago.

Khizr Khan, the father of a U.S. Army captain killed in action in Iraq in 2004, grabbed headlines when he gave a brief speech at the Democratic National Convention in July excoriating presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States during his successful campaign for the Republican nomination. He has since appeared in an advertisement for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign, recounting the death of his son, Capt. Humayun Khan, and tearfully asking Trump, “Would my son have a place in your America?”

Khan: 'Full citizenship is given to you, but you have to claim it'

Khan spoke at the MET event on the topic of “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers.” He urged Muslims in the audience to participate in the political process.

“Sometimes, we Muslims never claim our equal citizenship," Khan told the audience. "There is no second-class citizenship. There is no third-class citizenship. We are equal citizens of this country. We are equal citizens of this nation. With that honor — and I want all of us to remember — with that honor of citizenship comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is to participate in its political process, be responsible for its safety, be responsible for its progress, be responsible for the moving of this country, be responsible for the values of this country and become a full citizen of this country. Full citizenship is given to you, but you have to claim it, you have to participate, and you have to make sure that the future generation fully understands the responsibility and the honor.”

Khan, a lawyer who was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen in 1986, famously produced a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution during his Democratic National Convention speech and offered to lend it to Trump.

“That Constitution doesn't have to live in the books in the pockets and on shelves,” he said Sunday. “It must live in your hearts and your minds. … The reason this country is the greatest country on Earth today and in the history of mankind is because it carries those values in its hearts and its minds and in practice.”

Election Day is Nov. 8. Starting the day after what has been a divisive and vitriolic election season, Khan said, Americans must come together again.

“Let's get ready to forgive, extend the hand of friendship and extend the hand of reconciliation so … we can move forward,” he said.

But Khan also made it clear that he does not see this year's contest between Clinton and Trump as a typical election.

“This is not an election,” he said. “This is a test of our time.”

Khan urged the audience, “Don't listen to the polls. Don't listen to the 'who is ahead' or 'who is behind.' You have to do your part. You're not participating to vote for one candidate or the other. Luckily, we have a better candidate, but still, your participation is so imperative in this election.”

Fish, Wyden praise Khan, criticize election rhetoric

Khan was introduced Sunday night by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who has represented Oregon in Congress since 1981.

Wyden praised Khan for his “decency and dignity in the face of prejudice.” In the days following the DNC, Trump hit back at Khan and his wife Ghazala, and the Breitbart News Network published stories digging into their background and criticizing their alleged ties to Clinton.

“Your son is a true American hero,” Wyden told Khan. “You are a true American hero.”

While Sunday's event was officially labeled as a nonpartisan program, with Election Day just a little more than two weeks away, the subject of politics was difficult for Khan and other speakers to entirely avoid.

Khan only mentioned Trump by name a few times during his roughly 20-minute speech at the MET community center, criticizing him for his “un-American” and “ugly” rhetoric. He said he and his wife decided to appear at the DNC after hearing from Muslim friends concerned about being expelled from the country.

“Sitting quiet would not work,” Khan said. “We need to speak up.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who introduced Wyden, unsubtly pushed back on Trump's “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan by telling Khan, “Armed with a Constitution and a Gold Star, you reminded us that America is great because we don't judge people on the basis of their religion and their national origin. America is great because we don't build walls, we build bridges of love and understanding. And America is great because we never forget those who served and sacrificed to protect our freedoms, sir.”

To laughter, Fish also remarked that he “was not allowed to mention that (Wyden) is on the ballot this fall.” He encouraged the audience to pray both for Wyden's “longevity” and that he will be chairing the Senate Finance Committee in January — something that could only happen, it was left unstated, if Democrats retake a majority in the U.S. Senate this year.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, left, embraces Khizr Khan, the father of a U.S. Army captain killed in action in 2004. Wyden introduced Khan at an event in Tigard on Sunday.

Question-and-answer session

Khan also took several audience questions after his speech, including one from a man who said he is troubled by the choice between Clinton and Trump and asked Khan about the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“While I will gladly discuss this with you in private, the dignity of this gathering requires that we refrain from political statements,” Khan responded.

Khan said he feels it is important to support the United States even when he disagrees with its government, explaining, “That support gives me the right to disagree.”

Another questioner, a student at the Oregon Episcopal School, said she is writing a paper on Islamophobia in Portland and asked Khan for his advice.

Khan replied that he and his wife have never felt attacked for their Muslim faith.

“What is Islamophobia? People are scared of Islam? I don't think so. Not the majority of America,” Khan said. “But it doesn't mean that in some communities, that is not the case. We are very much aware of some communities, because of their ignorance, because of their limited understanding of Muslims, to some extent, because we have not made them understand … they are afraid of Muslims.”

He went on to tell the student, “By becoming part of your society, you can defeat this concept that exists in certain parts of America.”

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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