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Khizr Khan's Message of Islam and Peace: 'Looking Out for Others'

Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, speak with VOA in Washington, D.C., Aug. 1, 2016. (B. Allen/VOA)

By noon Monday, Ghazala Khan and her husband had been making the rounds of TV outlets around Washington for six hours, talking about their son, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq 12 years, one month, and 24 days ago — and about their virtual showdown over the internet and airwaves against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

It had been a long day already, and she was quick to tear up when talking about her son.

"He always brought people together. ... he told me 'Mom, give love and you receive love,'" she said Monday in an interview with VOA, alongside her husband.

It had been four days of non-stop media attention for the couple, since they stood together on the Democratic National Committee stage last Thursday, a photo of Captain Humayun S. M. Khan on the screen behind them.

Ghazala Khan said nothing as her husband spoke to the arena about the death of their 27-year-old son, who was killed in a car bombing in Iraq in 2004. She said she couldn't bring herself to speak, not with his photo up. Not in front of thousands of people, when describing him still brought her to tears. Humayun was electric; everyone who touched him agreed, she said. His positivity could literally be felt.

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"His passing sheds light on the capacity of human beings to be beyond 'us and them'," his father, Khizr Khan, explained in VOA's studio. "He was responsible for lots of human beings. Inside, there were hundreds of soldiers; outside, there were approximately 300 Muslim Iraqis — locals — that were coming into the camp. When the terrorist came, he extended his hand. He ordered his men to hit the ground. He had the option to hit the ground himself. ... He took 10 steps toward the oncoming danger.

"That is the message of Islam; that is the message of peace," he added. "Looking out for other. ... not killing them."

'Thank you for immigrating'

Since Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American who emigrated from Pakistan, spoke critically of Trump at the DNC, politicians from both parties have scrambled to respond as the Republican nominee struck back, comparing their sacrifice as a Gold Star Family to his as a businessman.

Arizona Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s and the losing Republican presidential candidate in 2008, rebuked Trump for disparaging the couple.

McCain, himself dismissed a year ago by Trump for being captured as a prisoner of war, said that the 2016 Republican nominee "has suggested that the likes" of the Khans' son … should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service."

Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

"I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump's statement," McCain said. "I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates."

Trump continued to denounce the elder Khan on Monday, saying on Twitter, "Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same — Nice!"

McCain, who has offered a tepid endorsement of Trump but not campaigned for him, said that while Republicans have picked Trump as their nominee, "it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us."

"Lastly, I'd like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: Thank you for immigrating to America," McCain said. "We're a better country because of you. And you are certainly right: Your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation — and he will never be forgotten."

Shouldering the burden

In the interview with VOA, Khizr Khan said the family knew taking the stage in Philadelphia would be difficult.

"Before participating in the convention, as a family we sat down and we talked about it. 'Should we do that, as Muslims?' And we decided that whatever the burden that would come, we would be together," he said. "We would bear it."

Late Sunday, Trump's vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said he and Trump believe that the younger Khan is a hero and families like his "should be cherished by every American."

Pence moved quickly in his statement to criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, for "disastrous decisions" that he said allowed Islamic State to overrun "a once stable Middle East."

While members of Congress, Pence and Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War; Obama was an Illinois state senator at that time.

The Pence statement said Trump's plans to bar immigrants from countries "compromised by terrorism," rebuilding the U.S. military and defeating Islamic State will prevent other American families from going through the same thing as the Khans.

Khizr Khan described Trump on Sunday as "totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country."

FILE - Khizr Khan, father of fallen US Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan, speaks while his wife Ghazala Khan looks on, during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016.
FILE - Khizr Khan, father of fallen US Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan, speaks while his wife Ghazala Khan looks on, during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016.

At the Democratic convention, Khan, joined on stage by his wife, said Trump disrespects Muslims and other minorities, as well as women, judges and Republican leaders. He questioned if Trump had ever read the U.S. Constitution, and said the businessman has sacrificed nothing.

Trump responded to the comments Sunday in an interview on ABC News, suggesting that his sacrifices were comparable to the death of the Khans’ son.

"I think I have made a lot of sacrifices," Trump said. "I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've done — I've had tremendous success."

When asked Sunday about the speech, Trump questioned why Ghazala Khan stood by her husband and did not speak.

"She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say," he said.

The soldier's mother did not speak during the convention appearance and later wrote that she was unable to, "Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain."

VOA's Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report