My name is Mansoor Shams. In 2000, I joined the U.S. Marines Corps. I served for four years and attained the rank of corporal. Overall, I had a great experience in the Marines. However, after 9/11, I endured calls of “terrorist” and “Taliban” from some comrades.

Why? It’s because I am a practicing Muslim. My family moved to the US when I was six years old to escape religious persecution.

After my experience in the Marines, I started, a website dedicated to combating hate, bigotry, and Islamophobia through education, conversation and dialogue. I even went to 25 different states across the country carrying the sign: “I’m a Muslim and US Marine, ask anything.” I am excited to do the same with you today right here on Reddit. Ask away!


Comments: 487 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

maghfira641 karma

Salaam Mansoor, how do you feel about the US's war on terror and constant killing of Muslim civilians overseas? I don't mean for this to sound combative, but how did you personally justify to yourself serving the US military in light of its horrendous track record?

Edit: Downvote me all you want, but my point stands. America's track record in the Muslim world is atrocious. Your fake internet points means nothing to me compared to the truth.

2nd Edit: Downvotes are gone lol.

wgbh_boston353 karma

Great question. Wasalam Salaam. I agree with you on the U.S.'s atrocious track record when it comes to the wars that it has engaged in. I have spoken very openly about this. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to the death of 1 million plus non-military Iraqis and Afghans. But I want to go to the larger point. I believe one way we can change the narrative is actually being part of the solution - service in the military, working in the government, working for a humans rights organization. The other point that is very important, especially for other Muslims, is that service to country is part of the Islamic faith. If I were to be living in Germany, it's my job to be loyal to that country. If I was living in Pakistan, I would be loyal to Pakistan. Loyalty to country is part of the faith. Yes, you should call out these human rights violations. The U.S. has a lot of work to do when it comes to boasting about its human rights compared with its track record of what it's done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Me serving in the U.S. Armed Forces does not mean I agree with everything the U.S. does. But there's an opportunity here. By joining the armed forces, you have the opportunity to make change. Lastly, if an unlawful order was given to me, I have the right to do disobey an unlawful order.

Please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter or on my website if you'd like to have an honest conversation about this.

ScottishRabbi418 karma

If your mind and knowledge of today were to time travel and be put into your body in 2000. Would you still join? How would you have approached things? Also, I'm sorry to hear about the ridicule you received.

wgbh_boston614 karma

I think that I would've still joined. And maybe even stayed in longer. A few years ago I was called in to give a talk to fellow Marines. It was after a long time that I had been on a base. There was a feeling that I had of missing the uniform. Had I stayed in I would've gone into the officer program. I would've definitely become an officer and part of me regrets that I didn't stay in. I had a four-year contract and it came to end and it's a choice. Perhaps some of the bigotry that I faced from fellow Marines may have had an impact in deciding to exit the Marine Corps. That could've been there as well or at least an element of that. Some negative treatment post-9/11. I do want to remind people that the U.S. military is not a racist organization but racism does exist in the armed forces.

Ok_Tourist_9911213 karma

What was the most meaningful question that you received during this experience?

wgbh_boston660 karma

I recall a specific experience. It impacted myself and the other gentleman. I was in Houston. There was a gentleman who was staring at me with my sign. I stared back at him. I probably shouldn't have. Then this guy starts marching towards me. And I responded: "What's up with this guy?" Long story short, he says: "I apologize. I just saw the Muslim part. Not the Marine part." And he ended up apologizing and it ended up being a great conversation. We became friends on the spot. His perspective on his phobia changed right then and there. And he said we have to do better as a society.

revelentpony164 karma

What was the number 1 question that people would ask you when you were carrying your sign in the 25 states? Did it vary by location - ie in the south, they would ask you one type of question and in the west, a different kind of question?

Did they thank you for your service?

wgbh_boston256 karma

I was asked a range of questions. They ranged from women's rights, homosexuality, is Islam going to take over the world, is there some sort of mass plan to kill people who don't believe in the faith, questions about Jihad. It was pretty much the same around the country.

OhMyGoog140 karma

Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?

wgbh_boston183 karma


jimmycarr1118 karma

Were there any personal conflicts for you between the rules of your faith and your duty as a soldier? If so can you give examples and how you were able to resolve them?

wgbh_boston293 karma

None. The Prophet Muhammad taught loyalty and service to country are part of faith. I love this country with all my heart and will always be ready to serve in any way.

cometssaywhoosh117 karma

When you served, how did you keep up with your daily prayers? Was there a dedicated separate area for you and other fellow Muslims to pray? Or did you just have to pray anywhere you can find?

Also, when it came to food, what was your favorite and least favorite MRE?

wgbh_boston198 karma

There's five prayers that Muslims do and some are combinable given if there's a certain circumstance. I was able to figure out a way to pray. I was 18, 19, so I was still candidly evolving in my Muslim faith. Ironically, I actually found myself as a Muslim in the Marine Corps. I actually think it strengthened my faith - especially after 9/11. It spurred me to learn more about my faith. I will say that in general the Marine Corps wasn't very educated on the Muslim faith and I did need to impress upon leadership how important things like Ramadan were. Some things were easy, some things were not as easy.

I liked all the MREs except I can't eat pork. Eating pork in the Muslim faith is essentially forbidden. The Chicken was good, side of nachos. There were Jalapeño crackers that I really liked, too.

Ok_Writing251107 karma

In the US, is there any friction or issues between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims? Do their communities generally have the same experiences as each other?

wgbh_boston94 karma

I’m not really aware of any major frictions.

travduke80 karma

I lived outside of Camp Lejuene for a couple years in my early 20s and spent many nights partying as it seems Marines in general love to party and indulge in alcohol.

As a man of Islam was it hard to socialize and befriend your fellow Marines while the main source of entertainment revolved around alcohol?

wgbh_boston105 karma

There's some truth to that. That was definitely a challenge. Many of my fellow Marines partook in those types of activities. Me being a person of faith - it was difficult. There was no Mosque around. There were no people with those same exact religious values. That part was extremely difficult. It was all too common of Marines taking their weekends and going clubbing which was completely contrary to my faith.

JeffRyan177 karma

Was Larry David in the right to not thank the service member he met for his service, after everyone else did?

wgbh_boston67 karma

Not familiar with it. I don't want to make a judgment call on something I'm not familiar with or just a clip. I may not be doing it justice.

GreenEyedCat29 karma

Hello Mansoor! Thank you for this!

If I may ask, what do you do during Ramadan, in terms of fasting and adhering, all the rules and stuff? I know some exceptions can be made for people within Islam about if they have to fast during Ramadan depending on what they do for a living(or...I've heard there are, I should say), and I assume (hope) the Corps would also be trying to accommodate you.

And does it depend what your Corps duty is at that time (eg, how do you handle it during a deployment, does it depend on where and when the deployment is etc?).

thank you for answering, and for your service. I'm sorry your fellow Marines know, assholes.

wgbh_boston55 karma

Ramadan is a requirement upon every Muslim. There are exceptional situations when you are traveling. For females - when they're pregnant. If you're on some sort of medication. If none of those things apply to then you are required to fast. When I was in service, there was just a lack of knowledge. I remember the chow hall wouldn't really open until after I could eat. I would go very early in the morning and get honey buns and that was it for me until the sun set. I assume the Marine Corps has made some progress since I was there. I hope progress has been made. There is no conflict of interest. There is no issue in me being a Muslim and a Marine. It's very Muslim of me to be a Marine in fact. All are welcome. All are supposed to be respected. I think the lack of education sometimes messes things up but I hope we've made some progress.

wallypole19626 karma

What was it that drew you to the Marines when you first enlisted?

wgbh_boston77 karma

To be very honest - it was due largely to my circumstances. I came from a broken home. The Marine Corps allowed me to become my own man, get on my own two feet. I took the ASVAB test - you can use it for any of the branches. I went for the Navy initially. As corny as it sounds - I did want to become part of "the few, the proud..." So I joined the Marines and I never looked back. And then I became Muslim Marine - it wasn't pre-planned I can tell you that.

Tiziel23 karma

If you had to pick just one thing from your personal faith that has a positive impact on your life and relations to others, what would it be?

wgbh_boston46 karma

Thinking good of others. Always giving people the benefit of doubt. I feel like that my faith has taught me to or has given me some level to understand others. The struggle and the pain that so many in life go through and the challenges they face. I really enjoy people. I'm a people person. And whether it's a faith or no faith, it's not relevant to me. But, for me, my faith has helped me to connect to people of all walks of life. Try to be a person that is kind and compassionate and willing to understand others. This life has many difficulties and challenges and I try to be conscientious of that reality. If somebody says something terrible to me - I just take it. You don't always have to say something back. I'll end with this saying from the prophet Muhammad: "Kindness is a mark of faith. And whoever has not kindness, has not faith."

CrassostreaVirginica22 karma

Hi Mansoor! Thanks for doing this AMA.

What sorts of reactions were you expecting to your site and the campaign with the sign? Were you surprised at any point(s), and if so, what surprised you?

How did that compare with your experience in the Marines?

wgbh_boston31 karma

There was a level of unpredictability when I went at this. It looked great on TV. But it was definitely nerve-wracking. To put yourself out there - it's not easy. I don't wish that on anyone.

I think it was received overwhelmingly well. There were instances where I was uncomfortable. I got looks that weren't very nice. There were places in the Bible Belt that weren't necessarily easy to put yourself out there.

LuntiX13 karma

This question is near and dear to my heart.

What is your opinion of Pineapple on pizza?


People seem to assume I mean with pork products, I meant just in general. I like pineapple on my chicken pizza…

wgbh_boston8 karma

Not for me.

JVExplore910 karma

Are there a lot of Muslims in the armed forces? Do they have the same experience of being called names and otherwise harassed as you did, and does the service leadership recognize this as a problem?

wgbh_boston54 karma

First Muslims have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the days of George Washington. I'm not the first Muslim Marine and I'm not going to be the last. I was in the Marine Corps during a very unique time - 9/11. The American public was very largely uneducated on Islam and they saw it through the lens of 19 hijackers. It makes no sense. Just as an example, if we look at mass shootings - it's a fact that it's done largely by young, white males. Should I look at a young, white male as a mass shooter? No. Unfortunately, there's a large part of society that looks at Muslims as just those 19 hijackers which is unjust. They're not a representation of the entire faith.

HHS20199 karma

Why did you choose a PBS station id as your Reddit handle?

Gemmabeta23 karma

Because this AMA is being run by the actual PBS station itself.

wgbh_boston19 karma

GBH is the PBS station in Boston, Mass. I'm featured in PBS's four-part "American Veteran" miniseries and the fourth and final episode premieres tonight at 9/8c nationwide. Episodes 1-3 are already streaming on and the PBS Video app.

blackhat914 karma

Semper Fi, brother! For what it's worth, I am sorry and sick our own would treat you like that, and 100% believe you considering I got told off more than a few times for not believing Muslims and Islam itself were inherently evil and speaking up. I can only imagine how much worse it was and thank you for the effort to fight this ignorance.

For my question: what is the biggest misconception with Muslims/Islam as a whole that you've seen in the Corps as well as Nationally in your travels? And what do you think can be done to help?

wgbh_boston6 karma

I think there's mainly a fear. And I think that fear is largely based on the the unknown and just lack of knowledge, seeing things on social media, etc. You have people who just don't know and they're being fed all this misinformation and lies and they've never met somebody like me. So they begin fearing. And that's the worst part of it. You fear what you don't know. We can only bust that if we can engage more and educate and have conversation. And what you'll come to find is that we're not that different at all.

PKtheworldisaplace4 karma

Was there a specific moment or incident that inspired you to carry the sign?

wgbh_boston18 karma

I'm a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. And that community held a campaign: "I'm a Muslim, ask anything." It wasn't my own idea. I added a little booster to it. Because of my own unique background of being a Marine additionally - I thought it would pack more of a punch. And I knew that it would be received well. A large majority of the U.S. public really respects its veterans. So I was in a unique position because of the platform I had as a veteran.

227CAVOK3 karma

In terms of personal development, has your faith helped you be a better marine, and has your marine experience helped you be a better person?

wgbh_boston7 karma

My faith is a driver in everything I do. Whether it was as a Marine or in my life today - it's a self-check, self-awareness, being self-conscious. How your decisions impact others or yourself. The Marine Corps teaches you discipline and so does Islam. So they kind of compliment each other actually. The values of the Marine Corps - honor, courage, commitment - they're also Muslim values in many ways.

gencoloji2 karma

What do you think of war?

wgbh_boston12 karma

I dislike war. I would hope that it would be the last, last choice any nation has to make. Unfortunately, when we're speaking of the U.S., I think we've been too quick to go to war. It has not only cost millions of innocent lives but thousands and thousands of U.S. service members as well. There's conversation, dialogue - so many other methodologies. War should be the last resort.

Ghozt122 karma

Where and when did you do boot? I went in August 2000

wgbh_boston3 karma

I went on Halloween night (October 31) of 2000. Parris Island, South Carolina.

reboxen03812 karma

When you went around with your sign, you get a stronger response from fellow veterans or from civilians?

wgbh_boston5 karma

Hard to tell. It's been a few years. I think I was slightly better received from the veteran community. It is a brotherhood and maybe more exposed to things some societies may not have.

aaronk2872 karma

Thank you for your service. Did you ever regret enlisting? What are your thoughts on the conflicting nature of the treatment of women in some Muslim communities versus the independence they have in others?

wgbh_boston35 karma

I don't regret it all. I wouldn't be here on Reddit if I haven't been in the Marine Corps. I've been able to do so many positive things. It's been an honor.

It's important to differentiate the teachings of the actual religion of Islam which 1,400 years ago gave more rights to women - the right to choose who to marry, the right to vote, the right to property, the right to education. The issue of women's rights - what happens in Afghanistan for example - does not represent the 1.8 billion people of the faith. My sister-in-law is becoming a physician, my wife is a physiologist. They are all highly-educated. I have a daughter and she can become whatever she wishes to become. This is because of my Islamic faith and their Islamic faith. Women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia is more cultural than it is religion. People often conflate these two things. The Taliban being a certain way is not representative of the entire faith of Islam.

ElPapaGrande982 karma

Were there many other Muslim Marines that you knew?

wgbh_boston14 karma

No actually. Veterans are a minority within the U.S. themselves. And then I was a minority within a minority.

Worth noting - Muslims come in white, Black, different cultures, different backgrounds, it's not a monolithic sort of thing. It is a very diverse faith.


Hello Corporal Shams, thank you for doing this. I have a couple questions:

Do you think there should be more work done on an institutional level to combat Islamophobia in the military? Do you ever worry that the military doesn't do more to address Islamophobia because it is actually an effective tool to dehumanize its enemies? Do you ever feel conflicted about trying to humanize an institution that has existed to kill Muslims for the past 30 years?

Thank you!

wgbh_boston2 karma

I wouldn’t categorize the U.S. Military as an institution out there to kill Muslims. However, any U.S. foreign policy decisions motivated by Islamophobia must be called out. And, yes, I think much more needs to be done to combat Islamophobia including at the institutional level.

saintcuervo-1 karma

If you could have a few minutes to say something to every American about Islam, just something they may not know but should know, what would it be?

Then, same question, but specifically for members of the military: one thing people in the military should know about Islam, American Muslims, Muslims around the world or Muslims in the service.

I'm curious both what you'd say as a practicing Muslim and whether you'd tailor the advice differently between civilians and the military. No worries if your answer is the same for both!

Thanks for doing this.

wgbh_boston4 karma

  1. There has never been an America without Muslims. 2. Muslim Americans love this country just like any other American. They want the best for it and for every American whether of faith or no faith.

Nick85er-2 karma

How could you possibly be more awesome brother?

Semper Fidelis old guard.

wgbh_boston1 karma

Much appreciated.