The Muslim Marine: educating and building bridges

Jake Hughes
August 01, 2018 - 1:42 pm

(Image courtesy of Mansoor Shams)

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There is a lot of misinformation about Islam in western culture. A recent poll showed that 60% of Americans have never met a Muslim. Some Americans still see Muslims as "the enemy." One man is setting out to change that.

Mansoor Shams moved to the US when he was 6 years old. Immediately after graduating from high school, he set out to join the USMC. "I came from a broken home, so that was very challenging," says Mansoor. "I wanted to accomplish something, to be my own man, and the Corps was that for me."

After four years in the Corps, Mansoor went to school, where he got an MBA as well as a Master's degree in Government from Johns Hopkins University. Now, a business owner and an activist, he calls himself the "Muslim Marine."

"In 2015, I saw several things that were happening in the country, that Muslims were being seen as 'the other,' or as the bad guy. I felt that as someone who served honorably, and as a person proudly following the Islamic faith, it was my responsibility to showcase another narrative," explains Shams.

His website, MuslimMarine.org, is a place where people can learn about Islam and see the faces of other Muslim service members. It also has links to websites where you can learn the real facts about Islam. For example, Islam teaches that non-Muslims will also receive awards in the afterlife if they profess their belief in God.

Shams has taken bold steps like inviting the Commandant of the Marine Corps to visit his mosque. "I don't think a four-star general in America has ever visited a US mosque. Isn't that interesting? You may have visited one when you were [deployed>, but a sitting Commandant has never been inside a US mosque."

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, took Mansoor up on his offer and visited his mosque for an Iftar dinner — the evening breaking of fast by Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

It's not always grand gestures, though. Sometimes it's a simple as walking around with a sign that says, "I'm a Muslim and a Marine. Ask me anything." Shams says people have taken him up on his offer, asking about the pillars of Islam and Sharia Law.

"People throw around that word everywhere, and they don't know what the heck they're talking about. They don't understand that it just means, 'a path to life-giving water.' Think about that. It tells me not to fornicate, not to drink alcohol, not to commit adultery. It's sort of a personal code of conduct," explains Shams. 

"It's about having that conversation." Mansoor reminds us that this mistrust and practice of making assumptions about one another is not one-sided. "There are people that are of my faith, that look like me, that are fearing that white guy, they think he thinks something about us."

During the month of Ramadan, Mansoor has also created the "29/29 Project," in which he took 29 veterans and had them spend a night at a Muslim family's house.

"At the end of the day, it's all about bringing people together. The more that people know one another, those fears are thus eliminated."

To learn more about Mansoor's work, visit his website.

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