Born in Boulder, Colorado and raised in California, Suhail Khan is a Muslim American whose father was the late Mahboob Khan—an early founder of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), a founding member of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a founding member of the Muslim Community Association (MCA), and the founder of American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice. Suhail Khan has vowed to carry on his “dear father’s shining legacy.” Suhail’s mother, Malika Khan, was a founding member of the MCA and is currently a board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ (CAIR) California chapter.
Suhail Khan earned a B.A. in political science from UC Berkeley in 1991 and a J.D. from the University of Iowa in 1995.
As a Capitol Hill staffer in the mid-1990s, Khan convinced then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to reserve a room in the Capitol for Muslims to pray. Subsequently, numerous extremists—including the cleric Anwar Awlaki, now a known affiliate of al-Qaeda—led prayers and spoke there.
In 1999 Khan spoke at an ISNA event where he praised the “mujihadeen” who had martyred themselves “for the cause of Islam”; he praised “the early Muslims [who] loved death more than the oppressors loved life”; he lamented that Muslim Americans “are under attack” and “are often faced with discrimination, harassment and outright hatred”; and he urged his co-religionists to be “prepared to give our lives for the cause of Islam.” Khan also expressed hostility toward federal law-enforcement and sympathy for terrorist suspects.
At that time, Khan was working for Tom Campbell, a Republican congressman from a heavily Muslim district in Northern California, to eliminate the Justice Department’s use of so-called “secret evidence” in deportation cases involving Arab immigrants suspected of terrorism. Khan worked that legislation specifically for Sami Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, was facing terrorism-related deportation proceedings where federal immigration officials were using classified intelligence which the suspect was not permitted to see. Khan tried to rescue Najjar by helping to draft the legislation—the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 2001”—which, had it been passed, would have banned the use of secret evidence.
Khan also defended Al-Arian against conservative allegations that he himself was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader. Under the very law that Khan was trying to abolish, Al-Arian would ultimately be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to federal prison for his PIJ affiliations.
After George W. Bush’s presidential election victory in 2000, Khan became a staff member in the White House Office of Public Liaison (OPL), where he was given responsibility for selecting which Muslims would be allowed access to the President and his team. In this role, Khan helped facilitate a White House meeting with Sami al-Arian, even though the latter was already under FBI investigation.
After the San Francisco Chronicle published a 2001 report tying Osama bin Laden‘s chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the Santa Clara mosque where Khan’s late father had been board chairman, Suhail Khan was removed from the OPL and was given a political appointment in the Department of Transportation. He spent the rest of the Bush administration there, ultimately serving as the Assistant to the Secretary for Policy. In that capacity, Khan had access to classified information on such matters as port, rail, waterway and highway security, as well as the movement of nuclear weapons and other hazardous materials.
At an American Muslim Council convention in June 2001, Khan received an award from Abdurahman Alamoudi, who in 2004 would be sentenced to 23 years in prison as one of al-Qaeda’s top fundraisers in America.
According to a December 2003 press release issued by the Islamic Society of North America, Khan served on one of that organization’s committees. Over the years, he has repeatedly been a featured speaker at events hosted by ISNA, MSA, CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Islamic Institute established by Grover Norquist.
Since departing the Bush administration, Khan has tapped into the Muslim Brotherhood’s highly successful “interfaith dialogue” strategem for co-opting and influencing the clerical leaders of other faiths. Toward that end, he has developed an affiliation with the increasingly Saudi-funded Institute for Global Engagement, on whose board serves John Esposito. Esposito is the founding director of the Muslim Brotherhood dawa (proselytizing) operation known as the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Khan boasts that this tie-in has afforded him an opportunity to cultivate relations with prominent Christian clerics and some wealthy conservative philanthropists.
Presenting himself as a pro-American, “life-long Reagan conservative,” Khan in 2007 was elected to the board of directors of the American Conservative Union (ACU), the organization which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC. His candidacy for that post was strongly supported by Grover Norquist, who was already an ACU board member.
Also thanks largely to Norquist’s sponsorship, Khan has been able to infiltrate other conservative circles as well. In addition to attending, for years, Norquist’s influential Wednesday Group Meetings, Khan has cultivated a reputation as a “conservative leader” by dint of his chairmanship of “the Conservative Inclusion Coalition,” which meets at the office of Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform.” Khan also has convened periodic meetings with young congressional staff members, some of whom work for legislators in positions of leadership.
In 2010, Khan supported Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf‘s effort to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan. Khan characterized Rauf as a moderate Muslim whose intentions vis à vis the mosque were benevolent.
According to the Contra Costa Times and other local press in California, Khan’s family mosque hosted several Taliban supporters while raising money for Hamas through its U.S. charitable front, the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation (HLF). The mosque is held in trust by the North American Islamic Trust.
By early 2011, Khan had become a spokesman for the Congressional Muslim Staff Association, where he worked with a Muslim convert named Jihad Saleh Williams. Khan also briefed Republican leadership staff on various issues and sought to establish a relationship with some of incoming House Speaker John Boehner’s people. Moreover, Khan gained the trust of key staffers running the Republican Study Committee, the caucus for conservatives in the House of Representatives.
This profile is adapted from the following articles: “Khan Job,” by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. (February 20, 2007); “Who Is Suhail Khan?” by Paul Sperry
(January 11, 2011); “Memorandum for Members of the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union,” by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. (January 14, 2011); and “Odd Connections of Some GOP Backers of Ground Zero Mosque,” by J. Michael Waller (August 23, 2010).