BALTIMORE, Md. — Most people stop when they see Mansoor Shams on the street nowadays.
A former U.S. Marine who served from 2000 to 2004, Shams has been traveling around the country with a sign that reads, “I’m a Muslim and a U.S. Marine, Ask Me Anything.”
“It’s very hard to predict what someone is going to ask,” Shams said recently, as he stood with his sign in downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. Being open to questions from strangers is “not the easiest thing in the world to do. There are times you feel like a target.”
Yet Shams believes that one-on-one dialogue with other Americans about his faith is crucial to combating Islamophobia. “Never would I have thought that we would have reached a state in our nation that we would be troubled, or confused, or frustrated, or divisive when it came to people who follow my faith,” he said.
“Some of the questions that I get as I’m out and about relate to Sharia law. That’s a very big one,” said Shams. “A lot of people do not know that it literally means a path to life-giving water. It’s sort of like my ‘10 Commandments,’ the moral code that I follow as an individual.”
He said he also gets many questions on homosexuality, women’s rights, why Muslim women cover themselves and even why he has a beard.
On the street, several people stopped to talk to him about President Trump’s recent executive order that placed travel restrictions on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions out there, and I want to remove those myths,” Shams said. “The Muslim world is comprised of 1.6 billion-plus people.”
Shams recently traveled to Houston, Denver, Portland, Ore., and Seattle. He says that his whole goal is simply to have conversations with as many people as possible.
“I sincerely believe that if I influence one person’s life that I’ve made a difference,” Shams said. “We all have a circle of people that we interact with everyday and if I can influence one person, there’s a trickle effect. They just might change someone else as well.”
He plans on continuing his campaign in the coming weeks with visits to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Shams urges people with questions to visit his website and to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.