Muslim Marine speaks at Westminster College
FULTON - According to a Pew Research poll, 62 percent of Americans have never met a Muslim. Cpl. Mansoor Shams said he finds that troubling, and he is trying to change it.
Shams has been traveling around the country with a sign that says, "I'm a Muslim and a U.S. Marine veteran. Ask me anything."
He made Missouri the 19th state he's visited, stopping by Westminster College Wednesday night to speak about his time in the military and his faith.
Shams joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2000 at the age of 18. He said choosing to enlist was a very natural decision.
"Loyalty to country of residence is part of my faith," Shams said. "It was very Muslim of me to become a Marine."
Shams said enlistment allowed him to understand his faith more.
"We are taught to be positive contributors to society," he said. "I had youth teachers, local presidents, other youth leaders who were helping me out, teaching me what are true Islamic teachings that led me to have a better understanding of my Islamic faith."
Shams said he was worried about coming to Missouri, but knew it was important to speak here.
"In light of recent events, the DACA thing and the travel ban, it definitely was on my mind as I drove here," Shams said. "But it also made me realize how important it is I come and interact with the people of this state."
Ayush Manandhar, the diversity fellow for the Center of Faith and Service at Westminster, said he invited Shams to speak in hopes of opening a dialogue between people.
"We live in a country of divisions," Manandhar said. "We don't always understand each other. I chose Corporal Shams to speak because he has respect as a marine, but sometimes you don't get respect as a Muslim. I wanted to have someone like him, who can speak out and people respect him."
Manandhar said the way people frame their questions can be wrong, but it isn't wrong to ask questions.
"We don't ever ask someone who is in the Army, 'Oh, are you a Christian first or an American?' We don't ever ask about their faith. There's a double standard there with Islam. People ask 'Are you Muslim or American?' and the truth is you can be both."
Manandhar and Shams both said they hope audience members took away a new understanding of the Islamic faith and will begin to have conversations with people who are different from them.
Shams said he wants to be a resource for people.
"Send me an e-mail, call me, reach out. I am happy to answer any questions people may have," he said.
Contact information is on Sham's website.
Shams will be in Kansas City, Missouri, and Topeka, Kansas, Thursday.