‘Being a United States Marine Was Very Muslim of Me’: Q&A With Marine Veteran Mansoor Shams

Published December 20th, 2017 - 12:03 GMT
Mansoor Shams (Al Bawaba)
Mansoor Shams (Al Bawaba)

by Rasha Touqan

Since late January 2017, Mansoor Shams has travelled across the United States, carrying a sign that reads: “I’m Muslim and a US Marine. Ask Me Anything.” Born in Pakistan and raised in the United States, Shams served in the US Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004.

As a veteran and a Muslim, Shams has described it as his duty to educate fellow Americans on Islam, saying that 62% of Americans have reportedly never met a Muslim. Beyond visiting 24 U.S. states in under a year, Shams has spoken about his faith and his experience as a marine at various colleges and events, in addition to educating people about Islam on his website, MuslimMarine.org.

When Al Bawaba spoke to Shams, he discussed his campaign, gun control, and the role of his faith in his choice to become a US Marine.

 

What attracted you to join the Marine Corps?

“To be honest with you, it was actually a very simple reason. I came from a single (parent) family household. My parents were divorced when I was very young. Towards the time of my high school years, I started to, I guess, feel the ramifications to a certain extent of that relationship. I sort of wanted to be my own man, get on my own two feet. {…}”

“Right before, I was heading toward the direction of the navy. I turned a 360 toward the marines. It may sound a little bit corny, but the Marine Corps was sometime that offered an accomplishment for me at that point on a personal level. It’s an elite force as far as the general forces are concerned. I think it sounds much cooler to be a Muslim Marine than a Muslim soldier.”

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So, you never felt that there was a contradictory sense between your background and what you were doing? Did you feel that was a natural extension of your future?

“Yes, I did, to be very honest with you … I came from a religious family; my grandfather was a missionary who served his whole life as propagating the teaching of the faith of Islam, particularly in the area of Africa. That’s what he did his entire life. So, I was an extension of that. There’s no doubt that faith was an important part of who I was growing up. Interestingly enough, as you said, there was zero contradiction.

Being a United States Marine was very Muslim of me. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it was because of my faith that perhaps I joined the United States Marine Corps, not that I was thinking about it at that moment per se. It was synergetic to a certain extent. So the question that comes now in today’s time about it somehow (being) a conflict is because people are unaware of the true teachings of Islam.

There’s actually a saying by the Holy Prophet, peace of blessed God be upon him, where he talks about the love of one’s country is a part of your faith. The United States of America is my country. If I had been in Jordan, I would have been loyal to the country of Jordan. If I was born in Pakistan, I would have been loyal to that country. I mean, I’m a United State citizen. It was very natural and very normal of me to be a United States Marine. This is why I talk all over the country.”

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On your website, you say that you visited 18 States and that you want to go visit the South. Have you managed to visit the Bible Belt so far?

It is a huge country. I have somehow been able to get to 24 states. It started at the last week of January, the last weekend of January. Here we are in December. So, 24 states, potentially 25 if I can pull one more off in less than a year -- which I think, even for myself, is a big feat, a big accomplishment. I have gone down to the Bible Belt area. I visited locations like North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. And I gave a talk at the University of Louisville several months ago {…}”

“When I was taking the campaign, “I’m a Muslim and a US Marine. Ask Me Anything,” to the streets, and when I got to Tennessee, I wanted to reach out to my former boss in the Marine Corps, 1ST Sergeant Ramirez  . . .  She advised me not to bring my sign to that part because she was afraid that I may get shot.

It was sort of a shock to me because I felt as much as we talk about ISIS – and they are obviously very bad people and have done very bad things – I felt like when she said that to me, that there was – and I said it to her actually – I feel like that’s the American version of ISIS. If I take a sign into a town or into an area that doesn’t necessarily like my Islamic faith, they would just shoot me because of the way I look like or the faith that I follow. That’s very disturbing.”

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Springing from what you said, do you think there is a double standard in the use of the word terrorist?

“Yes, of course, I do. Somehow, what troubles me, unfortunately, is an incident like today. There was an incident that took place in New York. What disturbed me is how we normalized that behavior. So, if someone who followed my faith decided to blow himself up and harm a lot of people, we somehow say that’s normal.

By saying that there’s no difference between somebody walking into a church, like Dylan Roof, and shooting a bunch of people, and someone who goes into a crowd of people and blows himself up, I find that very odd, because isn’t that actually abnormal? Think about it for a second. You just took a bomb, strapped it, and blew up a lot of people. To somehow assume that person is normal, regardless of what faith they follow, is just crazy to me.

I think we sort of do that when it comes to people who follow the Islamic faith here in America, where we take Dylan Roof and say, “Oh, he’s crazy, he’s not normal.” But take someone who follows my faith, we say, “That’s exactly what it is, that’s how it’s supposed to be.” There’s a huge contradiction obviously. That’s a very weird thing for me to actually recover inside of me. To me, any person, whether they be Muslim, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, or Christian, going to shoot a bunch of people up is not normal.”

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Do you think there need to be stronger gun control laws?

“I do! I’m a United States Marine. I’m a Muslim. I’m a citizen of the United States of America. I myself have a couple of guns, to be very honest. I have an assault rifle. I’ll keep it real. I should not be able to own that. I understand, having traveled through the nation, that there are certain parts of this country, which are very, you know, hidden. You may need something of that sort to protect yourself. I get that part. So, I’m not anti-gun. I can definitely understand, having travelled through the nation, that there are parts of this country that you should probably have one of those, just because it adds an additional safety measure.

I don’t understand why we can’t prevent someone from having an assault rifle. I have a military grade - pretty much - assault rifle. That’s what it is. Someone denying that it’s not military grade is just crazy. They are lying. They are making it up. They are living in some other world. For me, to walk into a gun show and walk out 15 to 20 minutes later with this rifle that could shoot like a mild range is insane.

So America needs to have a real conversation when it comes to gun control. Every day, I think every year, 11,000 people get (killed) by guns. Every year. That’s insane. That’s the biggest terrorist thing that I think has happened in the US counter to what people believe.”

 


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