(Credit: Mansoor Shams) Mansoor Shams, who served for four years as a Marine, is traveling the U.S. to educate people on what it is to be a Muslim. (NEW YORK) — A U.S. Marine is traveling around the country with a sign that reads, "I'm A Muslim U.S. Marine. Ask Anything."
Mansoor Shams, who served four years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged in 2004, said he aims to foster a greater understanding of his religion among people who may have never met a Muslim before.
The Baltimore, Maryland, man was inspired to go on his quest after his religious community ran a campaign called, "Meet a Muslim," where community members would go out and engage people in conversation.
"I was inspired by that for sure and felt that I could have an ever greater impact because of the resume I held," Shams, 34, told ABC News.
"Given the current day climate … I came to realize that it's time for people like myself to sort of come out of their comfort zone and and engage in conversation," he added. "That's the only solution … within my abilities."
Shams has stood holding his sign for a couple of hours at a time in places such as his hometown in Maryland and locales in Colorado, Washington and New York.
He recalled an encounter in Houston, Texas, that he said he'll never forget.
"A gentleman walked by and he sort of stared me down in a very, very bad way," Shams said.
Eventually the man came up to Shams asking him, "What did you say?"
Shams said he told the man, who appeared to be white and in his 50s, "'You gave me an evil look, man!'"
"And I just stand there to see what’s about to happen, and he just sort of calms down," Shams continued. "[He said] 'You know, I just want to apologize to you. I didn’t read the whole sign.' He only read the Muslim part."
Shams said he then asked the man, what if that was all his sign said? He said his question led to a civil conversation in which the man said, "'I’m sorry. You're right. I’ve been ignorant. I feel like I’m being played like a pawn. Help me to understand.'"
The two would go on to exchange numbers and have kept in touch to this day.
Shams is now planning a trip to Tennessee and Kentucky next week. He also plans to go to Georgia and Alabama in April.
"I believe that it's my responsibility and sort of a duty, a job, an obligation upon myself, particularly for me as a Muslim Marine," Shams said. "I was giving back to my country in uniform and now I'm giving back to my country in a different way."
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