Capt. Humayun Khan of the Army was killed in Iraq. More than a decade later, his father offered a rebuke of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals and his ideas on religious tolerance.

Share story

When Capt. Humayun Khan was ordered to Iraq a dozen years ago, his father wanted to talk to him about being an American-Muslim soldier sent to war in a Muslim country.

His son, though, was focused only on the job at hand.

“I asked him, ‘How do you feel about the whole Iraq deal?’ ” recalled Khizr Khan, who became a U.S. citizen after emigrating from Pakistan in 1980. “He said: ‘Look, that’s not my concern and that’s not my pay grade. My responsibility is to make sure my unit is safe.’ And that’s all he would talk about, and nothing else.”

Capt. Khan, 27, died on June 8, 2004, after he told his men to take cover and then tried to stop a suicide bomber outside the gates of his base in Baquba. And Thursday night, speaking about his son at the Democratic National Convention, Khan, of Charlottesville, Va., gave a voice to Muslim Americans outraged by the anti-Muslim pronouncements of the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump.

In a speech that electrified the convention and turned Khan into a social-media and cable-news sensation, he waved a pocket Constitution and challenged Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Trump’s call for restrictions on Muslims entering the country is acutely personal, Khan said in an interview Friday, adding that he had no plans to campaign for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, nor had the campaign asked him to.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Khan’s remarks. In December, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” More recently, he has pledged to suspend immigration from any country “compromised by terrorism.”

If restrictions on Muslim immigration had been in place decades ago, Khan said, neither he, a lawyer with an advanced degree from Harvard Law School; his wife, Ghazala, who taught Persian at a Pakistani college before raising three boys in the Washington, D.C., suburbs; their eldest son, Shaharyar, who was a top student at the University of Virginia and a co-founder of a biotechnology company; nor Humayun, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for saving the lives of his men, would have been allowed to settle here.

A third son, Omer, who works at his brother’s biotech company, was born in the United States.

“If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” Khan exclaimed about his dead son during his speech, his wife by his side. Khan said Trump “wants to build walls and ban us from this country.”

“Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said, addressing Trump directly, while pulling a miniature version of the country’s founding document from inside his coat pocket.

Khan said he admires both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, though Thomas Jefferson is his real hero.

Khan’s journey from lawyer and legal consultant to prime-time DNC speaker began in December, when he got a phone call from a writer for Vocativ, an online publication, who wanted his thoughts on Trump’s statements about Muslims.

Khan criticized Trump’s statements as un-American in an article published by Vocativ. A few weeks later, he got a phone call from a Clinton campaign official, who had seen the article and asked if his comments could be used in a tribute for his son at the convention.

“I said, ‘What a wonderful honor,’ ” he recalled in the interview. “Who am I to say no?”

Months later, the campaign asked if he and his wife would come to the convention. “The initial plan was just to go there and stand and talk to the media afterward,” he said. “Then somebody called and said, ‘Would you like to say a word or two?’ ”

Time was tight and the schedule packed, he was told. The campaign asked whether he needed speechwriting help or any coaching. “I said: ‘I really don’t, I have my thoughts in my head,’ ” he said. “I won’t make it an hourlong speech, just let me say what I want to say. It will be heart-to-heart.”

Nothing from the speech, he said, was the product of the campaign, including his dig at Trump’s lack of military service. It all flowed pretty easily, because he had been thinking about these things for quite a while, he said.

Khan expressed great faith in the Constitution and in a political process that bolsters a belief that “an unqualified person will never get to this office.”

“I respect the Republican Party as much as the Democratic Party,” he said. But he added: “I definitely will continue to raise my voice out of concern that the Republican leadership must pay attention to what is taking place.”

Khan met his wife at Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan. They moved to Dubai, where their two eldest sons were born, then arrived in Houston, renting a $200-a-month apartment. Eventually they settled outside Washington, where Khan worked at a mortgage company and law firms.

Humayun Khan attended John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, M.D. In his free time, he taught disabled children to swim. At the University of Virginia, he joined the ROTC program, and majored in psychology, his father said. He planned to attend law school.

The bomber who took Capt. Humayun Khan’s life drove an orange-and-white taxi toward the base. Had the captain not warned his men to take cover, “there would have been more casualties,” his brigade commander, Dana Pittard, said in an interview.

Recalling the captain’s potential as he watched Khan’s speech, Pittard said, “I had to leave the room, it brought back such a flood of memories.”

After their son’s death, Khizr Khan and his wife, who had moved to Charlottesville to be close to their other sons, had the university’s ROTC cadets over for dinner once a year. Khan would give them each a pocket-size copy of the Constitution, just like the one he brandished Thursday, said Tim Leroux, who used to run the ROTC program.