Decades later, Khizr Khan speaks excitedly about the moment he fell in love. It was 1972, in Lahore, Pakistan, and he was taking a university law course on comparative constitutions. First, the class looked at the founding documents of the Soviet Union, then Germany, then Great Britain’s Magna Carta.
And then, Khan told a theater of Austinites on Saturday, he discovered the United States Constitution.
Thus began the passion that brought Khan from Pakistan to the U.S., to become a lawyer and citizen, father of a son who gave his life while serving in the Army, and an overnight celebrity after his clashes with President Donald Trump over immigrant rights and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Khan spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention with his wife, Ghazala Khan, about their son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq in 2004. Khizr Khan fiercely criticized Trump for proposing a ban on Muslim immigration and famously held up his own copy of the Constitution, asking Trump: “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”
Trump lashed back at Khan, taking aim at his wife for her more quiet presence during the speech, suggesting she isn’t allowed to speak. The accusations, levied at the parents of a fallen soldier, earned condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats.
Khan spoke in Southwest Austin on Saturday as part of a long schedule of appearances and book signings for his memoir “An American Family.” Here, he remained relentlessly optimistic and patriotic, shifting questions about politics to celebration of the U.S. political system.
He recalled the day he received U.S. citizenship, when he quietly recited to himself all the rights in the Bill of Rights that now applied to him. He quoted his favorite grievance against the king of Great Britain in the Declaration of Independence like a best friend’s words: “He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners.”
Asked about Trump’s criticism of his wife, Khan noted that his wife edited his convention speech for him and deleted its first sentence — a joke about Melania Trump’s alleged plagiarism of Michelle Obama — calling it beneath his dignity. He said he’s learned to distinguish hate mail and threats from letters from fans because the hate mail doesn’t come with a return address.
The audience, including many local Muslims and at least eight candidates for area political offices, called Khan an inspiration and pressed for guidance on how to remain positive when politics turn negative. He said several times he’d like to be home with his grandchildren but believes speaking out is important.
“Your time chooses you,” he said. “Each and every one of you has been chosen to meet this time.”
One woman asked Khan if he would consider running for office. He acknowledged that he gets the question a lot but insisted he’d really just like to sweep the steps of the U.S. Capitol.