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Personality: Malik and Annette Khan

Spotlight on RPEC’s 2017 Peacemakers of the Year

6/24/2017, 12:58 p.m.
For decades, Malik and Annette Khan have worked to build bridges between the Muslim community and others in the Richmond ...

For decades, Malik and Annette Khan have worked to build bridges between the Muslim community and others in the Richmond community.

Much of their work has been done through interfaith organizations and nurturing dialogue based on common interests and shared values.

One of the biggest obstacles they faced, Mr. Khan recalls, was immediately following the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001. At the time, he was president of the Islamic Center of Virginia.

“I had to convey and convince that all Muslims were not terrorists — that it was a few who had committed this hateful, heinous crime and that the majority of American Muslims were peace loving citizens.”

The Khans’ work, begun well before then, continues today with their active mentorship of Muslim young people in Greater Richmond and with the RVA Peace Festival. They also participate in several local organizations that promote peace and social justice.

For their years of work and commitment to peace, the Khans have been named the 2017 Peacemakers of the Year

The award was presented to the Khans by the Richmond Peace Education Center last week at its member dinner. Because it is Ramadan, a month when the Khans and Muslims around the world observe their faith’s rules of fasting daily from sunup to sundown, the RPEC’s board arranged the June 14 awards program around an iftar dinner in a spirit of solidarity and understanding. Attendees waited until sunset to break the fast with the Khans, even though that meant serving dinner at 8:45 p.m.

It was a gesture not lost on the Khans, who were humbled by news of the award. “It was totally unexpected and not sought after,” the couple says. “We think many others are more deserving.” Receiving the annual award “gives us the opportunity to tell more Richmonders about organizations that do the work of peace and bridge building,” the Khans say, pointing to the RPEC, the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond, Initiatives of Change/Hope in the Cities and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

When the couple settled in Richmond nearly 30 years ago, they began hosting sessions with teens, offering discussion and life lessons beyond what the mosque offered. Topics included translations of prayer, what is fasting, why Muslims fast, how to pray at school and more.

“The group has grown to about 10 families who meet on Saturday or Sunday evenings,” Mrs. Khan says. “He meets with them to have conversations about how to respond to current events, and he mentors them.”

Through the years, they also have given presentations at various churches, schools and community centers about Islam to educate non-Muslims. They also have hosted iftars in the community and arranged for Muslim teens to volunteer in the city.

In today’s climate, the Khans say that working toward peace is more important than ever. “Acts of violence and/or hate not just against Muslims, but against all, including Jews, Sikhs and African-Americans, indicate that we have a long way to go,” Mr. Khan says. “Without peace, the consequences are too dark, grim and scary.” Though the task is heavy, Mr. Khan believes that peace is best achieved through deliberate action.