Thursday, March 23, 2017

USA: “A Muslim Marine” examines intersectional identities

Shams encouraged the audience to examine what they thought of when they heard the word “Muslim.” He said initial thoughts or misconceptions one might have are not the problem.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: The Louisville Cardinal
By Shelby Brown | March 22, 2017

“You have a man before you, before your very eyes claiming Islam, claiming American, claiming U.S. Marine all at the same time. How can this be?” U.S. Marine Veteran Mansoor Shams asked.

U of L’s Engage Lead Serve Board hosted Shams, also known as the Muslim Marine, March 21.

U of L student Fatma Haji thinks it’s important for the university to host diverse events to foster education.

“We can fill the gaps,” Haji said. “People can understand and have different perspectives from Muslims themselves and not just what they see on the media and what they read in the news. I think stories and personal interactions do that better.”

Shams travels across the country to speak his time in the U.S. Marine Corps as an American Muslim. He also talks about carrying his sign that reads “I’m a Muslim and a U.S. Marine, Ask Anything.”

Director of Veteran’s Affairs on ELSB, Induja Nimma organized the event. Nimma said she had not experienced discrimination until this past year.

“When I was in a T.J. Maxx and I was getting stares. That’s never happened to me before. I’ve lived in Louisville pretty much my whole life,” Nimma said. “I went to the mayor’s immigration rally and I understood that the tide was switching. Something that I thought that would be a really cool thing to bring together would be the Veterans side and the Muslim side. I’m personally not a Muslim, but it’s nice to see the two converge together.”

Director of globalization at the office of Mayor Greg Fischer, Brian Warren made remarks about March 21 being Immigrant Action Day. Warren said the goal was citizens getting engaged in ways to help and become involved.

“They (immigrants) make us an interesting and diverse community,” Warren said.

Shams echoed Warren’s sentiments describing America as the “culmination of people from all walks of life.”

Shams reiterated that he was not looking for sympathy but rather reflection.

“I’m here to tap into that moral compass deep within us all,” he said. “Regardless of what faith or tradition you follow, or don’t follow. I want this moment to be about sincere reflection into the deepest corner of our hearts, our minds, our souls.”

Shams encouraged the audience to examine what they thought of when they heard the word “Muslim.” He said initial thoughts or misconceptions one might have are not the problem.

“Whether you share that thought or don’t share that thought with anyone, not addressing it, at that moment you have begun the process accepting something,” Shams said. “Until you fix it, until you catch it, it will become you.”

Islamic faith impacted Sham’s four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“There are only two complete parts of the faith, one is to love God, another is to love mankind,” Shams said.

Shams is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Ahmadiyya is a revivalist movement within Islam.

“I served this country because it was the most natural thing for me to do at the time,” he said. “Loyalty to my country of residence is a part of my faith. It’s actually taught by Islam.”

Shams saw no discrimination in the Marines until after the 9/11 attacks. He said his fellow soldiers would make jokes in poor taste.

“I kind of laughed it off in the beginning, I didn’t really know how to address it. But you know, eventually I got the courage and I tried to address it,” he said. “The military has work to do to better understand the diversity of the nation.”

Vets for American Ideals is another group Shams works with. The group consists of citizen-soldiers advocating for the values that initially inspired them to serve. Their current project is protecting the Special Immigrant Visa program, combating Islamophobia and protecting refugees.

Shams addressed Donald Trump and ISIS, making the distinction from Islam.

“You may have heard the phrase #notmypresident,” he said. “That is not my stance at all. That is not how Islam as a religion commands me to operate. The Holy Quran teaches us something quite different: to not create disorder, to obey people in authority above you, even when you disagree.”

Shams says that one person or one group will not define his America. He believes the same logic should be applied to ISIS.

“This is where the dilemma begins, which shouldn’t really be a dilemma but it is,” he said. “The worst of the worst. Ruthless killers, murderers killing innocents wherever they can find them, creating havoc. Whether it’s a Muslim or not. ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other faith  group, that is a fact.”

Shams still speaks a message of hope.

“I know it’s a little bit rough out there,” he said speaking to the Muslims in the audience, “If you’re a Muslim man, my ask is that you don’t shave your beard. And if you’re a Muslim woman wearing your hijab, don’t take off your hijab. If you want to give yourself an nickname, why? You don’t have to do that. There’s no need to be afraid. You cannot fall victim. Do not let them tell you that you are not an American.”

Shams encouraged the audience to “stay in touch”, welcoming emails on his website.

“This event connects our community, promotes diversity and promotes discussion. And really promoting discussion is the best thing you can do when talking about diversity,” Associate Director of Veteran’s Affairs, A.J. Walters said.

Dr. Muhammad Babar also spoke at the event. He outlined Muslim participation in history dating back to the War of 1812.

“So then why 240 years later, we are still wondering on this question: that if Muslim Americans or Islam belongs if America?” Babar asked. “But why do I have stand up here and give you these stats? What does Shams have to stand on the corner of streets with a sign? I’m counting on you because my generation has dropped the ball.”

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