Mansoor Shams on Islamaphobia as a U.S. Marine

This past week at school meeting, U.S. Marine Veteran, business owner, and Member on the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Mansoor Shams addressed the Lawrenceville community on his work combating bigotry and Islamophobia.

This past week at school meeting, U.S. Marine Veteran, business owner, and Member on the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Mansoor Shams addressed the Lawrenceville community on his work combating bigotry and Islamophobia. After graduating high school, Shams stated that he “wanted to become [his] own man” and decided that the U.S. military would allow him to achieve the level of independence he wanted. At the age of 18, Shams initially completed the qualifying test for the U.S. Navy but ultimately decided to join the Marine Corps. Even though he was determined to join, the thought that becoming a U.S. Marine would be against his faith never crossed his mind, stating that “loyalty to your country of residence is very important as taught by the Prophet Muhammad.”

While in the Marines, he recalled memories of support from his superiors. During Ramadan, Shams was required to take a fitness test. He asked his sergeant to take the test after Ramadan so he would be able to perform to the best of his ability, but after checking with him, Shams was informed he would have to take the test while fasting. To support him, his sergeant drove next to him throughout the three-mile run to make sure he wouldn’t faint. This story exemplified the support and generally positive experiences Shams had while being a Muslim in the Marine Corps.

One of his close friends, a Muslim doctor and president of his local mosque, brought to light that because of his background, Sham might be in a well-suited position to cover topics of discrimination. Shams realized that “having that Muslim background and being a United States Marine had uniquely positioned [him] to take on a lot of questions and be a voice,” ultimately prompting him to create his own website. He mentioned that “even people who have extreme views… have a respect for the armed forces,” and he has utilized his platform of ‘Muslim and Marine’ to successfully educate others about Islam. According to his website, Shams has made appearances in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America, the New York Times, in addition to serving as a commentator on the Cable News Network (CNN) and the Microsoft National Broadcasting Company (MSNBC). He has also delivered numerous talks with the National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Marine Corps, police and state governments, and at various universities across the U.S., allowing him to educate millions on Islam.

Similar to Andrew Forsthoefel, who walked across the U.S. carrying a ‘Walking to Listen’ sign, Shams walked through 25 states carrying a sign with the following statement: “I am a Muslim and a U.S. Marine. Ask me anything.”

His mission to unify people through conversation, stems from some of his personal experiences with making misjudged assumptions. A few years ago, Shams attended a Muslim annual youth retreat in California. When he and his friend pulled into the parking area near the campground, a volunteer told them they couldn’t park there, so his friend dropped him off to park the vehicle in another location. After the volunteer left, Shams noticed another car with tinted windows pull into the same area where they had tried to park. The driver removed an orange cone blocking his path and proceeded to park in that spot; while Shams was astonished to see this, he did not say a word.When he saw the man pull out a wheelchair from his rear door for his brother, who was handicapped from the waist down, Shams immediately realized that his initial assumption of the “audacious” act was misguided. He said he felt “disgusted with himself” and “recognized his human weakness” of making this false assumption.

Shams also explained that the public perception of what it means to be American and the emphasis on labels in this day and age. He said that he has repeatedly been told to “go back to where [he] came from” and that the conversation in America has become “more about who doesn’t belong.”

Reflecting on his experiences, Shams offered Lawrentians advice on how to combat stereotypes and have an open mind. “What I do realize is that whether it’s at Lawrenceville or other parts of the country, people just don’t know, and it is natural to fear what you don’t know,” he said. “My message to the Lawrenceville community is to get to know people that are different.”

On Sham’s school meeting speech, President of the Muslim Students Organization Areeq Hasan ’20 said, “As a former member of the Marine Corps, he presented a unique perspective many of us may not be familiar with. By sharing a diversity of opinions and experiences, a community emerges stronger and better equipped t counter discrimination, explicit or implicit.”

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