'A huge honour': Obby Khan nearly moved to tears as 1st Muslim MLA in Manitoba history

Newly-minted MLA Obby Khan was jubilant after his narrow byelection victory in Fort Whyte on Tuesday night, but the gravity of the moment struck hardest when he spoke about being the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba Legislature.

'Increasingly, our political system is reflecting the diversity of our community'

Obby Khan speaks Tuesday night after winning the Fort Whyte byelection for the Progressive Conservatives. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Newly minted MLA Ibrahim (Obby) Khan was jubilant after his narrow byelection victory in Fort Whyte on Tuesday night, but the gravity of the moment struck hardest when he spoke about being the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba Legislature.

"Yeah, that's a huge honour and a badge for me. I was one of the first East Indians to play in the CFL, now the first Canadian Muslim to be elected in [the Manitoba Legislative Assembly]. It's just — it's amazing," he said.

Khan eked out a narrow win for the Progressive Conservatives over Liberal Willard Reaves by 197 votes. Both men are former players for the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

After his victory speech, Khan said knowing other Muslims may want to follow in his accomplishment is one of the greatest honours he could ever have. 

"My son can grow up, looking at, hey, there's a Muslim in the leg., there's representation there," Khan said.

"Oh, you know," he added, pausing, "you almost got me to cry there."

WATCH | Obby Khan on being proud to be 1st Muslim MLA in Manitoba:

'That's a huge honour and a badge for me': Khan on being the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba Legislature

8 months ago
Duration 1:01
Newly minted MLA Ibrahim (Obby) Khan was jubilant after his narrow byelection victory in Fort Whyte on Tuesday night, but the gravity of the moment struck hardest when he spoke about being the first Muslim elected to the Manitoba Legislature.

Khan's family emigrated to Canada in 1978, shortly before he was born in 1980.

"I hope my father is looking down on me, smiling on me and what he's and who he's raised."

Rana Bokhari, who led the Manitoba Liberal Party from October 2013 to September 2016, is Muslim but was never elected as an MLA. She publicly hid the fact she was Muslim, but no longer does.

"I never really brought it up. I just held it kind of in my heart as something that I was holding on to," she said.

She is "extremely proud" of Khan.

"We've never had representation in the legislature and I've always wanted that. When I was leader, I wanted that," she said.

"He gets to do that and I definitely am celebrating with him, all partisanship aside."

Former Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, seen taking part in the 2016 provincial leaders' debate in Winnipeg, says she is celebrating Khan's victory. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press)

Bokhari believes Khan's success has already opened doors for young people.

"When we were growing up — Obby and I are of the same generation, our parents are from the same world — there was never, in our wildest imaginations, there was never even a thought that this could be something that we ever did," she said.

"I know that there's young people who will be coming behind us and really starting to crush those barriers down."

'Representation matters'

Idris Elbakri, a director with the Manitoba Islamic Association, said there have been Muslim school trustees in Manitoba in the past, and Flin Flon had a Muslim mayor, but Khan's victory is a major milestone.

"This is the political body that governs our province. We've had several Muslim candidates in past years attempt to make it to the legislature, [but] to actually have Obby win is significant," Elbakri said.

"Increasingly, our political system is reflecting the diversity of our community. I think that's a wonderful thing."

Idris Elbakri of the Manitoba Islamic Association says the province's political system is starting to better reflect the diversity of the community. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Khan echoed that in an interview Wednesday morning with CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.

"Representation matters. Having a place at the table really, really matters," he said.

"Having that visual representation for people to look toward is a huge honour that I do not take lightly, and I will be ever so mindful of that every single day I go to work now."

Despite the victory, the close result in a riding that has been a PC stronghold sends a clear message, Khan said.

"We have to do better. I have to spend a lot of time and effort and rebuild that trust and communication and open dialogue with the people of Fort Whyte," he said.

"We, as a government as well, have to do better. That's exactly what the polls showed last night."

Since the district was created in 1999, the PCs have won every election, until now with a minimum of 52 per cent of the votes.

Khan won Tuesday's byelection with 43 per cent while Reaves had 40 per cent of the votes — a 23 per cent gain for the Liberals from their showing in the 2019 general election, and a 15 per cent drop for the PCs.

"People have their concerns and they want to be heard and they want to be represented. I look forward to those challenges," Khan said.

In the more immediate future, he needs to be sworn in and take conflict of interest training to separate his public life from the private one.

Khan, a businessman, owns the Shawarma Khan restaurants and co-owns Green Carrot Juice Company and GoodLocal marketplace.

"I look forward to those meetings and discussions and finding out what I have to do." 

Khan has already been removed from the day-to-day operations of the businesses for some time, he said.

Political system in Manitoba starting to reflect the diversity of our community

8 months ago
Duration 2:02
Obby Khan is the first Muslim MLA in Manitoba. It is a significant moment for Manitobans who practice Islam and some community members are excited to see what this milestone means for them.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Ian Froese and Meaghan Ketcheson