By Zainab Iqbal
Published: April 3rd, 2019
Bilal Khan is the 19-year-old son of immigrant parents from Pakistan. He has five sisters and still shrugs his head when thinking about how he signed up for their kids’ school pick-up duty. He calls himself a sneakerhead and was wearing a clean pair of Yeezy’s on this particular day. Khan is also the president of the Brooklyn College Islamic Society (BCISO) and plans on making a difference in his community.
Khan is a freshman. When he first came to Brooklyn College last semester, he didn’t have much friends except some of the guys from high school. So, he signed up for BCISO thinking it would be a place where there are other Muslims and people he could relate to.
A semester later, he became the president. Being president wasn’t something he was trying to go after; it just happened, he said. His new role consists of managing everything, organizing events, making sure the club room is clean, and making sure there is enough food for events. It also consists of speaking at vigils.
Two weeks ago, a white supremacist murdered 50 Muslims inside two mosques in New Zealand. Khan’s friend posted a status on Facebook saying, “Islamophobia is real.”
“He’s an activist and I thought he was just doing his activist business,” Khan said. “But then I saw somebody post that there’s an attack. And at that moment I really didn’t know what to think. I was at a loss of words. I didn’t know what to say and how to react.”
The next thing he remembers doing is organizing a vigil at the college along with the Young Progressives of America (YPA).
“The college didn’t say anything about it. They didn’t post anything on Facebook, they didn’t send any kind of letter, and there is such a big Muslim population on campus,” Khan said. “Non-Muslims were also affected. So, when the college didn’t take the initiative to do something, we decided to host a vigil.”
Khan said that after the New Zealand massacre, many people were afraid. Students were afraid to walk out of their house because what if someone attacked them? Women were afraid to wear their hijabs and men were afraid to go to Jummah prayer.
“I just tell them to keep fighting and stay strong,” Khan said. “At the end of the day, it’s their personal struggle. I don’t know what it feels like to wear a hijab on my head all day. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a situation where people are constantly looking at me because of something I am wearing. I tell women to keep doing what they’re doing and the struggle will be worth it at the end.”
Last week, Khan was inside a restaurant with his friend. He remembers telling his friend, “Someone was selling GOAT credits.” GOAT is a website/ app where people sell shoes. When a person sells shoes, they receive credits that they can use to purchase other shoes or cash out.
When he told his friend someone was selling GOAT credits, a woman turned to them and asked, “What goat? You’re selling a goat? Who’s selling a goat?”
Khan said he remembered smiling because “It was cool to see someone else interested in what we were talking about.”
But the lady did not like it when he smiled. The woman turned to him again and said, “Well, maybe you should be kind and nice instead of smiling like an idiot and wearing a funny hat.”
That “funny hat” the lady was referring to was the kufi on Khan’s head. It’s a short, rounded cap worn by men. For Khan, this was the first time someone had a made such a comment to him.
Regardless of what people may think, Khan wants to make a difference. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and has lived in “Little Pakistan” practically the almost-two decades of his life. He refers to himself as an “imam in training” and wants to give resources to his community that lacks it.
“When you come from an immigrant family… you go through college and the system and have no one to ask for help, no one to look up to, and have to figure out everything yourself,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like that. We need mentorship programs, programs to help women, and programs for homeless people.”
Though Khan has a long way to go, he’s excited for what comes next.
“I am just working to make a difference,” he said, “in my community, in our community. I want us to think about the future and the children growing up.