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Nyla Khan of Oklahoma, Kashmir, and the world – hope and honor through hard work, vast intelligence and a hopeful spirit

Patrick B. McGuigan

Oklahoma City, August 13, 2021 – Dr. Nyla Ali Khan continues to build a network of positive relationships with Oklahoma leaders across the spectrum of Oklahoma’s leadership.

She is attending the Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s dinner at the Cowboy Hall of Fame on August 26. That event has the theme “A Night of Hope,” and is held to raise money to support the annual Prayer Breakfast that Stitt and his wife, Sarah, host at the start of each year’s legislative session.

Nyla Khan continues teaching and applying her knowledge to broader themes, including the work she does as part of the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team (OKGIT), where the diverse membership is committed to, in the words of the organizational website, “a prosperous and globally focused Oklahoma.” 

GIT works for that objective through practical steps of “business development supported by a climate of international engagement among the general public, as well as the business, educational and government sectors. In a recent interview, she told me how impressed she is with the substantive intellectual capital of the members.

The group involve more than 50 Oklahomans from varied professions — including such luminaries as Cathleen Skinner, Catherine Webster, Enrique Gambetta Villar, Douglas Price and Desa Dawson and others for whom I have deep respect.

Perhaps the most important GIT event in the next few months is the Oklahoma Trade Summit, being held “in collaboration with the District Export Council’s World Trade Conference.” That worthy gathering is set of October 27 and 28. 

Releasing its list of women leaders in Oklahoma – “50 Making a Difference” – due honors this fall, The Journal Record newspaper described the group as “a litany of extraordinary women whose accomplishments are a credit to the Sooner State.”

Each will receive plaudits and detailed biographical notations from the business newspaper, and several of these great ladies have a special place in the esteem of this writer.

For the third year in a row, Nyla Ali Khan (Oklahoma City Community College/Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women) is among the honorees. Her trifecta of annual recognition garners the distinction of induction into the “Circle of Excellence.”

Dr. Nyla — as she is known to family, friends and of course her students — will share this special moment in October with Cindy Friedemann, Cynda C. Ottoway, Judy Richey, Julie Knutson, and Leah T. Rudnick.

* * *

From the depth of our exchanges and similar (but not identical) reflections about the course of human events, it might seem as if I have known Nyla all my life.

In truth, it was only in June 2019 that we met, when she delivered a memorable speech before a gathering hosted by the Dialogue Institute at its Oklahoma City offices on North Classen Boulevard.

Her topic was “Building Community and Engaging Young People in the Process of Democracy.”

As a man whose Reagan-esque conservative philosophy does not fit comfortably into the present framework of partisan hyper-division, I have been drawn to her press against the academic/research trend that belittles community and institution building, making a central value of invidious dismissal of those who have gone before us in America.

She said that day, “Our young people need to remember that despite the several letdowns, the process of democratization is an evolutionary one and does not provide instant solutions.

“As I’ve said at other forums, the non-legislative reforms that we require are new efforts and new forums not just in this country but in other parts of the world as well for the birth of new ideas and broad-based grassroots politics that transcend organizational divides. And it makes me happy to see such seeds being sown on our college campuses, particularly in rural areas.”

What gives authenticity and depth to her comments is a deep-seated love of both her native land (Kashmir, in the western Indian sub-continent) and her adopted land (the United States, and Oklahoma), where she now cherishes the rights of citizenship.

With some disruption of pattern due to the Pandemic, she visits Kashmir every other year, to lecture to students, meet with other scholars and with elements of diverse ethnic and political groups.

Her experiences on those trips inform her reflections on contemporary life and accelerating turmoil here in America.

At the core of her identify is the influence of a dear mother, still living and vibrant, and her departed father.

Hearing or reading her stories of them and of their nurturing yet demanding formation of her character leads me to remember my parents and grandparents – and my favorite writer.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in the novel ‘Cancer Ward’: “The meaning of existence [is] to preserve untarnished, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity which each person is born with. … Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond.”  

Concerning her father, Dr. Nyla shares tenderly: “He often told me that people should feel free to delight in life until the last breath. He taught me how to live, and the flame of my father’s love will never be extinguished. Every calamity and every conflict reminds us of the fragility of life.” Such comments were among the most endearing at a book release party in north Oklahoma City a few weeks back, where she challenged, inspired and comforted attendees. 


In a world of woe in need of motherly affection and scholarly rigor, her recent work has the perfect focus. 

Her newest academic book is “Educational Strategies for Youth Empowerment in Conflict Zones: Transforming, not Transmitting, Trauma” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). It is available both in print and digital versions.

I do not know what the future holds for Dr. Nyla.

I am joyful that her recent past has included exchanges over the phone and the Internet, and infrequent in-person visits.

I affirm her dignity, and honor her integrity as a South Asian Muslim woman at home in the Bible Belt of the south central United States. She is modeling and helping to teach a new generation of Oklahomans about the value of discovering things we all should share. For me, this includes an aspiration to discover practical steps together, and to forge ties rooted in mutual interest and respect for the astonishing “coat of many colors” that makes up this state.

For more information about The Journal Record’s October 14 event, visit here.

I happily anticipate Nyla’s recognition this fall, and hope to share more years of reading drafts, exchanging idea, remembering forebears, celebrating students and family and contributing to the healing of our land.

And, I pray God’s blessings on all those with whom she will share the upcoming distinctive designation as a person who is “making a difference.”

Note: This is expanded from a shorter August 7 reflection that appeared on the website, here. A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, McGuigan is editorial director for The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.

Nyla Khan. Rose State College Photo.
Map of Kashmir and Jammu, circa 2004
Dr. Nyla Khan at Edmond’s Common Place books, where one of her recent book-signing and discussion events was held.