Why one Muslim Marine is inviting questions about his faith

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Mansoor Shams served in the United States Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004. Recently, he has been traveling around the country with a simple sign that reads: “I’m a Muslim and a U.S. Marine. Ask anything.”

NewsHour producer Mike Fritz joined him while he was on the streets of Baltimore to listen in to some of the conversations he was having.

MANSOOR SHAMS, Former U.S. Marine: Do you know that I have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be a Muslim? He’s a very special person to us.

MAN: Oh, yes. But he’s more than a prophet.

MANSOOR SHAMS: But that’s OK. That’s where we differ.

My name is Mansoor Shams. I’m a former U.S. Marine. I was born in Pakistan, came to the United States at age 6. I’m now 34 years old.

MAN: So, how are you Muslim and a Marine if they hate you?

MANSOOR SHAMS: Because that’s what I am.

MAN: It doesn’t make sense.

MANSOOR SHAMS: How did I start this project?

Well, it’s interesting, because never would I have thought that we would reach a state in our nation where we would be troubled or confused or frustrated or divisive when it came to people who followed my faith.

The more conversations that we have, the better.

Recently, I got to visit the cities of Houston, Denver, Portland, and Seattle. It’s always a new experience in general, because you don’t know how people are going to react, and how they are going to take it.

MAN: ISIS, I thought they just chopped the heads off. They don’t chop your head off. They even have little children. I couldn’t even…

MANSOOR SHAMS: They’re horrendous people. I agree with you.

If ISIS caught me, they would put me — break me up into pieces.

Some of the questions that I get as I’m out and about relate to Sharia law. That’s a very big one. So, they will say, do you believe in Sharia law as a United States Marine, as a Muslim? Of course, my answer is, yes, I do.

But it’s not the way that you believe in it. It’s the way I believe in it.

I tell them that it’s literally a path to life-giving water. It’s a moral code. It tells me not to commit adultery. It tells me not to fornicate. It tells me not to drink, not to gamble. This is all forms of Sharia law.

A lot of people are scared of perhaps people who follow my belief system or even look like…

MAN: I love Muslims. I love everybody, brother. I love you.

MANSOOR SHAMS: Hey, man. Thanks, man. You motivate me, man.

(LAUGHTER)

MANSOOR SHAMS: I think Americans do not understand Islam.

It’s been among — amongst America for 200 years. It’s always been there.

MAN: And, see, that’s what he’s trying to protect us from is the radical Muslim, the ones that are intending to come over here and kill us.

MANSOOR SHAMS: In the larger scheme of things, when you paint an entire religion or an entire nation, for that matter, with a broad brush, and anyone who is an immigrant who’s come to this country, ask them how hard it is to come to this country. OK?

My feelings of Donald Trump, or President Trump, has been mixed. It’s helped me to see another America that I thought we had gone far past.

However, I did take the time to write him a letter and to say that he could use me as a potential resource. I don’t know if he’s received it. It wasn’t a partisan letter. It wasn’t a negative letter. It wasn’t not a not-my-president letter, because not my president technically goes against my faith as well.

The Koran teaches me to be loyal, not only loyal, but to obey people in authority above me. He is our president, and there’s no doubt about that.

Everybody met a Muslim and a U.S. Marine?

I feel that, at the end of the day, if we don’t fix these things, this is going to have a — create a larger problem for our country. The trajectory we’re headed on right now doesn’t seem like a very good one.

We’re not that different.

MAN: That’s right.

MANSOOR SHAMS: No need to be scared.

MAN: Right.

MANSOOR SHAMS: You know?

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