The Muslim In The White House
I had the privilege of meeting Suhail last week when I was in DC for some meetings. I really like the guy a lot. He’s a class act and loves God, though we define God differently. Suhail brings a perspective to all of us, that we in the U.S. need to hear. I asked him some questions and thought you might enjoy hearing from him. Feel free to comment.
Suhail Khan was born in Boulder, Colorado, to parents who emigrated to Wyoming and Colorado from southern India. The oldest of five children, Suhail grew up in California and earned his B.A. in political science from University of California at Berkeley in 1991 and his J.D. from University of Iowa in 1995.
Suhail served as Policy Director and Press Secretary for U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell (R-CA) where he worked closely on legislation relating to health antitrust reform, religious freedom, the preservation of the Second Amendment, tort reform, the reform of race-based affirmative action, and the 1998 impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. After the 2000 elections, he aided the White House Office of Public Liaison in the President’s outreach to the conservative, think-tank, military & veteran and Asian-American communities.
He is currently serving as Assistant to the Secretary for Policy under U.S. Secretary Mary Peters at the U.S. Department of Transportation where he was awarded the Secretary’s Team Award in 2005 and the Secretary’s Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 2007.
In a volunteer capacity, Suhail is an active participant in the RNC’s 72-hour program and has deployed to key races in states including Colorado, Washington, Iowa, Louisiana, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Suhail serves on the Board of the American Conservative Union, the Indian American Republican Council, and the Islamic Free Market Institute.
Suhail lives in Washington, DC and enjoys movies, WWII history, and restoring and riding vintage Harley-Davidsons.
Suhail how did you start working in government?
Thank you, Pastor Bob, for this opportunity to visit with you and friends. It was a real pleasure to meet you and Mrs. Roberts on your recent visit to our nation’s capital, and I’m so grateful for the great work you do for our country and the world’s faithful.
I began serving in government as an advisor and press secretary for U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell, who represented the Bay Area in California, in 1995. After five exciting years, where I worked on issues such as health care, religious freedom, and patent and copyright reform, I left “the Hill ” to serve on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue under President George W. Bush. At the White House, I assisted in the President’s outreach to the conservative, think-tank, veteran, Christian, Muslim and Asian-American communities.
What was it like working for President Bush as a Muslim?
It has been an honor to serve President Bush. From a young age, my parents taught me to serve others, and the opportunity to serve our President in the White House and later with the Administration has been a unique and special opportunity to serve in the best interests of all Americans. As a person of faith, President Bush has demonstrated an appreciation for the many communities of faith that make up American society. This appreciation for all Americans, regardless of race or religion, has been important not only during the good or peaceful times, but is especially crucial in challenging times such during the aftermath of the horrific tragedy of 9-11.
What was it like being in the White House after 9-11, as a Muslim in the White House?
I was in the White House busy at work that tragic day, and like all Americans, I was shocked and horrified by the cowardly attack on our country. And like my fellow Muslims, I was even more so angered to learn that the perpetrators did these murderous acts in the name of faith, in the name of my faith. I was so proud when President Bush reminded Americans that these acts were perpetrated by killers in defiance of faith, that Muslims were victims of the attacks; that they were witnesses to it; and were, several of them at least, among the first responders who rushed to the aid of those injured and dying. And they provided comfort and care and rescue to their fellow Americans.
Just days after the attack, I was especially proud to help organize the National Day of Prayer at the National Cathedral where, along with President and Mrs. Bush, the Cabinet, Members of Congress and many other of our nation’s leaders, leaders of various faith traditions led our nation in prayer.
What do evangelicals and world Christians need to know about Muslims in the world today?
I would say that Christians need to know that Muslims, Christians and Jews, share much in common and that we can coexist and live together as believers in the Almighty. There are differences, no doubt, but the majority of conflicts in the world—often cloaked in religious terms are really political in nature. By truly embracing the shared values of our respective faith traditions, we can discuss, debate and even argue on matters of spiritual salvation, but we can do so peaceably while joining together to promote free religious expression and liberty, regardless of where and who may be the dominant faith.
For example, after 9-11, a mosque in the Northern Virginia was subject to vandalism and attacks. Members of neighboring churches, synagogues, and temples spontaneously gathered at the mosque to pass on flowers, well-wishes and words of support. The following year, on the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, many of these Christians and Jews gathered to spend the night protecting the mosque from further attacks. These acts led to interfaith meetings, and together, Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the surrounding area for years have worked together on shared issues such as providing shelter for area homeless every winter. This is just one example of where people of faith can join together—without diluting our respective beliefs or traditions—and actually further the practice of our respective faiths while promoting the bonds of understanding.
How has Freedom of Religion in the U.S. impacted you?
Over forty-five years ago, my parents immigrated to our country because it was a country of freedom, including free religious expression. And I am truly blessed to have been born in a country where we enjoy the right to religious freedom. The Founding Fathers drafted and ratified a special document, our cherished Constitution, that struck a unique balance by expressly declining to provide an official or established religion in the new nation, all the while preserving the free individual expression of faith. The Founders also excluded religious tests from the Constitution, knowing fully that one day Catholics, Jews, Muslims and atheists could conceivably secure elected office. Indeed, when the first Muslim was elected to Congress in 2006, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a descendant of slaves, he swore his oath of office on the copy of the Qur’an—the Muslim scripture—that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
How do you feel towards Christians?
I feel a sense of strong fellowship with Christians. As you know, Jews and Christians are specifically honored as “the People of the Book” in the Qur’an because of their special status, having received Divine revelation including the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel. In the Qur’an, God assures us, “Be they Muslims, Jews, Christians..those who believe in God and the Last Day and who do good have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, and they will not sorrow.” Indeed, there is an entire chapter of the Qur’an entitled “Mary” where the miraculous birth of the Messiah Jesus to the virgin Mary is described along with the other miracles, life and teachings.
As I mentioned, my parents immigrated to our country. Prior to my father immigrating to Laramie, Wyoming, he was offered a scholarship to the University of Moscow, in the then communist USSR. He declined, because as communists, he and his family knew the Soviets did not respect faith and the reverence of God. My parents chose to make the United States their home because they knew this is a country where the vast majority of people believe in God. They saw the United States, as Ronald Reagan described, as a “shining city on the hill” where all are free to practice their respective faith. Growing up, I was reminded of this important fact, and when it came time for me to attend school, ultimately my parents sent me to a Christian school because they wished their son to have an education with a specific and expressed moral and religious foundation.
What are some practical ways normal everyday people can engage Muslims in their neighborhood and community?
I think the easiest way for Christians and Muslims to engage in their neighborhood or community is to host each other at community events. For example, many mosques open their doors to non-Muslims for the evening meals during Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. At sunset, Muslims gather to break the fast with a meal, and this “iftar” is a wonderful opportunity for non-Muslims to join Muslims in conversation and fellowship. Likewise, many churches invite their Muslim neighbors to attend Christmas and Easter events. When it comes down to it, people are social, they gather around food, and after breaking the ice, you’ll find folks get along just fine!
Is it proper to invite a Muslim to your home to eat a meal and if so what can you cook and not cook for them?
Absolutely! The main dietary restrictions observed by Muslims include abstaining from pork and alcohol, so save the honey-glazed ham and the Shiner Bock for your non-Muslim guests. And just as some friends from the Jewish tradition “keep kosher,” some more strict Muslims also do not eat meat (beef, lamb, chicken) unless it was slaughtered according to Jewish, Christian or Muslim tradition (they only eat kosher or “halal” meat). My advice is to ask your guests whether they only eat halal meat, and if so, stick to seafood!
Thank you once again, Pastor Bob, for this opportunity to visit and share some of my thoughts and experiences with you and friends. God Bless!
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.