Manitoba’s 1st Muslim MLA says he’s touched by support, ready to work

Obby Khan held a copy of the Qur’an as he strode to the front of the room.

Never before had a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba used the holy book of Islam to take their oath of office until Khan was sworn in as the new MLA for Fort Whyte on Monday. 

Khan, who was elected last month in a byelection in the Winnipeg riding, made history as Manitoba’s first-ever Muslim MLA.

“It was very, very heartfelt moment for me. My family was here. My mom was here, she was in tears and my family was in tears,” the new Progressive Conservative MLA said afterwards, explaining he had been gifted the Qur’an by a good friend.

“To be the first Muslim MLA in the history of Manitoba is nothing that I take lightly. It is a huge honour for me to have that opportunity to be the first. It’s so important for kids to see that, to grow up and say, ‘Hey, I look like that person, I can be there. He’s doing it. She’s doing it. I can do it. I can make a difference. I can help people.'”

Khan said in the last few weeks, he has been approached by more people thrilled at the difference he could make in their lives as a politician than he was in his nine years of professional football.

“That is a huge honour for me,” he said. 

He used his first address in the legislative chamber Monday to offer the traditional Islam greeting of  “Assalamu alaykum,” a wish of peace and blessings upon his colleagues.

Obby Khan hugs his mother, Rehana Khan, after being sworn in. She flew in from Ottawa for the occasion. (Mike Deal/The Canadian Press/Winnipeg Free Press)

Khan eked out a tight byelection victory last month in what had been a historically safe seat for the Tories, but the government has been hurt by a pandemic that’s pummelled its popularity.

His victory is seen as a morale booster for the PCs. A star candidate, Khan is a popular ex-member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who has gone on to run several businesses after retiring from the gridiron. He owns the Shawarma Khan restaurants and co-owns Green Carrot Juice Company and the GoodLocal marketplace.

His family travelled from all over North America to attend his swearing-in. His mother was supposed to be on the Flair Airlines flight from Ottawa that got cancelled, but she got onto another flight and landed in Winnipeg just in time to head to the legislature, Khan said. 

“Thank God there was two seats left on the flight today from Ottawa [to] Toronto and then here. They all made it and it’s a great story that will go down in history.”

Premier Heather Stefanson had been jubilant on election night, describing Khan as the “future face” of the Progressive Conservative party. 

New family

At his swearing-in, Stefanson told Khan he had earned a new support network — his colleagues in the Progressive Conservative caucus.

“Just know that from now on you have a new family with you as well that will be around you and help guide you on this new journey in life as the new MLA for Fort Whyte,” she said.

Khan said later he is 100 per cent committed to his new job as an elected official. He said he’s phased himself out of the day-to-day operations of his businesses and will meet with the conflict of interest commissioner to ensure those affairs don’t interfere with his new role at the legislature. 

He said it’s still getting acquainted with what his responsibilities entail as a politician, but said the legislative chamber didn’t feel too foreign to him.

“That was an interesting experience. It felt like I was playing in Saskatchewan,” Khan said, referring to his time as a Blue Bomber and facing their bitter rival, the Roughriders.

Asked which political team he considers the Blue and Gold in this analogy, Khan left it up to the reporter. 

“We are the two-time Grey Cup champs. I’ll let you figure out which side we are on and which side the opposition is.”

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