A MUSLIM man is on a mission to counter misconceptions about his faith. His approach is simple – travelling the country, challenging strangers to ask him anything.
Mansoor Shams, who is also a former US Marine, currently resides in Maryland. He is travelling across the country, standing on street corners in cities and towns, carrying a sign reading: “I’m Muslim and a US Marine, ask anything.”
He hopes to educate Americans about Islam and counter bigotry.
“The message is so important for people to see considering what’s going on in our political environment,” Shams said, speaking to The Huffington Post. “There’s a consistent lack of knowledge and understanding of people who follow my faith.”
Shams started off with his project in the days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. There was a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes the days following the inauguration.
“There’s no denial it’s about Trump ― his candidacy relied on Islamophobic concepts,” Shams said.
“I guess what I want people to know, a guy who looks like me ― brown skin, black beard, the typical stereotype ― is not a terrorist. He could even be a US Marine!”
Shams has currently travelled to Texas, Colorado, New York and Washington – his goal is to cover all 50 US states.
So far, Shams says he has been asked a variety of questions ranging from “How are you?” to “Are you American or Shariah law?”
“It’s a lack of awareness, lack of knowledge,” Shams said. “I respond, ‘Shariah law, do you know what Shariah law means? It’s a moral code, it tells me to be nice to you, to be a good person, that’s what Shariah law is.’”
Shams believes his position as a Muslim who served in the Marines puts him in a position of privilege that he can use to counter anti-Muslim bigots.
“People are listening to me because I’m a Marine who served. I get that I earn a level of respect and trust where they can hear what I have to say,” Mansoor said. “I would love if the world we lived in was one where it wouldn’t matter whether I served.”
To help fund his travels, Shams has set up a GoFundMe page.
However, he says “No matter what I get from the funding, I’m going to do this. The need is greater than any dollar amount. I feel like I’m literally serving my country again ― a country that’s clearly quite divided these days ― by uniting us through conversation and getting out of my comfort zone.”