Muslims in Maine: Busy Student, Active in the Community

Aug 23, 2016

In the fourth and final installment of our series of profiles of Muslims who have made Maine their home, we neet Mohammad Khan, a first generation immigrant who has become active in his local community and his university. To read the first, about author and educator Reza Jalali, click here. To read the second, about Lewiston businesswoman Shukri Abasheikh, click here. To read the third, about Ekhlas Ahmed, a Portland educator who is building bridges, click here.

Mohammad “Humza” Khan’s life is a list of firsts. He’s a first-generation immigrant, the first student in more than a decade to serve on the Gorham School committee, and the first Muslim to be elected Student Body President at the University of Southern Maine. And he’s just about to enter his junior year in college. 

He also works two summer jobs. One is running the counter at Spare time bowling in Portland.

“So I’ve been working two different jobs, trying to keep it 45-48 hours a week,” Kahn says. “So, trying to stay as busy as possible.”

While at USM, Khan was involved in the creation of the Muslim student association – and now serves as president of that group.

“There is a great deal of Islamophobia towards Muslims and that was one of the reasons I actually got involved in the first place. we first began the MSA, the Muslim Student Association, to help Muslims become stronger and more united in the USM community.”

Khan has spent much of his formative years building bridges. his family immigrated to Maine from Pakistan in 2005, first to Standish then to Gorham. In both towns, he was one of only a handful of Muslim students, which compelled him to engage others and teach them about his cultural background. 

Khan’s former high school teacher William Sedlack describes Kahn in this way: “I mean it’s like watching a young Bill Clinton. the man loves working a room; he loves raising money. he’s just, he’s a force and he’s just so much fun to work with.”  

Sedlack also recalls how Kahn enriched class discussions because of his willingness to share his personal experiences of life in Pakistan. 

“Having his experience, talking about issues around drones, that was a particularly interesting class,” says Sedlack. “We were looking at some Vice reports and Humza was able to shed some light on how children’s programs in Pakistan approach drones. essentially, the Pakistani version of Sesame Street has a drone character on it to teach children safety with drones.”

In his senior year of high school, Khan was elected class president. He also became one of two students appointed to the Gorham School Committee, where he represented the 7,000+ students in the district. 

After graduating from high school, Khan ran for the Gorham City Council. His campaign was focused on encouraging young people to live and work in Gorham. Khan was the youngest candidate by more than 20 years. He lost, but was encouraged by the support he got.

“I was able to get about 800 votes in an election where the winning seat usually gets a thousand,” Kahn says. “So I was very close to winning. The election went really well; the way people approached my campaign, it was really great and religion was surprisingly not an issue nor was my ethnicity. If there was one issue, it was the fact that I was too young and I was running as an 18 year old.

But since then, Khan has continued to lead.  USM’s Muslim Student Association has become the largest and most active in the state. This would not have been possible without Khan’s influence, says Abdulkadir Abdi, the organization’s secretary.  

“And one of the biggest things that I found was very very helpful was the fact that he can bring many types of people to join the MSA, whether they’re from a Muslim background or not,” Abdi says. “He just has that personality and he has that kind of leadership.”

Khan is pursuing a degree in history and plans to eventually go to law school. He also hopes to settle down in his hometown.  

Says Khan, “What I would like to do is be involved in the community as much as possible.“

In fact, Khan may take another run for Gorham Town Council.