Khan ‘overwhelmed’ to become first Muslim elected Manitoba MLA

It’s a role Ibrahim (Obby) Khan is proud to have achieved and a responsibility he fully appreciates.

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This article was published 23/03/2022 (191 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a role Ibrahim (Obby) Khan is proud to have achieved and a responsibility he fully appreciates.

The son of immigrants from Pakistan, who became a businessman after a career in professional football, has become the first Muslim to be elected to the Manitoba legislature.

“Even as I hear you say those words, ‘the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba legislature,’ it makes the hair stand up on my arm,” Khan said on Wednesday, a day after being elected Progressive Conservative MLA in Fort Whyte.

"It feels wild,' says Obby Khan about being the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba legislature. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It feels wild, it feels surreal. I am overwhelmed. You hope other people can see this, and in other communities as well, and say “I can do that, too.’”

Khan beat Willard Reaves by 197 votes in a constituency that has voted Tory since its inception in 1999.

He is best known for playing for three teams in the Canadian Football League, including five seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 2006 to 2011. After retiring from football, he opened his first Shawarma Khan restaurant in 2012 and then added two locations. He co-owns the Green Carrot Juice Company, and started, an online marketplace for local businesses.

The local Muslim community was thrilled with Khan’s political victory.

Tasneem Vali, the Manitoba Islamic Association’s first vice-chair, said Khan frequently attends the Grand Mosque on Waverley Street.

“Obby is very much part of the community,” Vali said. “He has friends here. This is very special for us.”

Vali said the association is a non-partisan organization, but to them Khan’s win is not a partisan issue.

“Him being elected as a Muslim and actually saying and being proud of his faith, it brings a positive image of Muslims in Canada,” she said.

“It is somebody from our community being included in the province. I’m excited to be a Manitoban where we can see our community reflected in the makeup of the province… the Muslim community is coming of age.”

Khan is not the first Muslim to run for MLA. Rana Bokhari, who headed the Manitoba Liberal party for three years, failed to win a seat in the legislature.

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said Khan fulfilled his dream to be in politics.

“Sometimes when we talk about some firsts, I always think: why it took so long?” Siddiqui said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Obby Khan winning the Fort Whyte byelection with party leader Heather Stefanson on Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When you’re the first, you have even more responsibility because the young are looking at you. It is not being first or second, it is how well you perform and you are there for all Manitobans.”

Khan said he had planned to go to medical school, but changed course.

“It was the typical immigrant story, the son becoming a doctor or lawyer. I could have gone to medical school, but I decided instead to play football.”

Khan said his election victory speaks to the Tory party’s commitment to diversity.

“When I met with the premier, she said the PC party is growing into a big tent. This is just a huge honour for me. I’m just blown away.”

Khan said he knows what might happen the next time he goes to the mosque.

“It will be tough to hold back tears when I go to the mosque on Friday,” he said.

“I’m just looking forward to serving all the people of all communities.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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