True Stripes

A local “Muslim Marine” hopes to change hearts and minds.

By Lydia Woolever - April 2017

True Stripes

A local “Muslim Marine” hopes to change hearts and minds.

By Lydia Woolever - April 2017

-Photography by Mike Morgan

On Jan. 21, the day after President Trump took office, Baltimore businessman Mansoor Shams was on a conference trip in Houston when he decided to hit the streets with a sign reading, “I’m Muslim and a U.S. Marine. Ask anything.”

Given that, according to the Pew Research Center, 47 percent of U.S. adults do not personally know a Muslim, the 34-year-old—who served as a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004—is hoping to fight Islamophobia with those eight little words. 

“I try to connect with people at a human level,” says Shams, sitting in the Pikesville home he shares with his wife, Nahel, and their four children, with a red-and-yellow Little Tikes toy car parked in the background. “We are one human family. If we both got cut right now, what color would our blood be? We might have some differences in our belief systems, but actually, we’re not that different.”

 As one might imagine, reactions have varied, ranging from curious looks and angry stares to sympathetic smiles and high fives. But what has also emerged are unique dialogues as strangers ask questions about topics the likes of Sharia law, the Islamic State, and women’s rights. 

“It’s a trickle effect,” says Shams. “Even the person who doesn’t come up to me, I have a feeling—and I may be wrong—that when they see the sign, something hits them. And if I can make that happen, make them think, I’m okay with it.”

Having experienced the power of face-to-face connections firsthand, Shams has continued his quest in other major cities. He took to the streets in Denver and Portland. He wielded his sign in Seattle, just days before the president’s controversial travel ban barring entry for refugees and visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. He talked to pedestrians in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and fielded questions from  passersby in the bustling heart of Times Square. For his efforts, he’s become a quasi-celebrity as the “Muslim Marine,” receiving requests for interviews from major news outlets like NPR, CNN, and PBS.

A Johns Hopkins alum and local Muslim youth leader, Shams, who moved to Maryland from Pakistan at age 6, first made headlines for his activism back in 2015 when, in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, he spearheaded the #FreeIceCream campaign that brought complimentary soft-serve to local parks and city schools in order to spread good vibes throughout the community. Two years and dozens of conversations later, he plans to keep reaching out to people, and he’s optimistic about the future. 

“I have dreams,” says Shams. “One of those dreams is to just make an impact. Another is to run for office one day.”





You May Also Like


The Chatter

Maryland Schools To Remain Closed Through May 15

Hospitalizations and deaths in the state, now approaching 500, still on the rise.

On The Town

Guinness Lovers Can Now Support the Maryland Food Bank by Picking Up Beer

Halethorpe brewery’s new curbside service benefits COVID-19 response programs.

The Chatter

Grocery Workers Manage to Keep Morale High and Give Back Despite Long Hours

Managers and employees are working in overdrive to keep communities fed.


The Chatter

Real Food Farm and Bikemore Hit the Streets Delivering Meals to Older Adults

Community project strengthens Civic Works' sustainable mission while helping neighbors in need.

The Chatter

Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula, Who First Won Big in Baltimore, Dies at 90

Architect of Miami Dolphins' perfect 1972 season was 33 when he took Colts helm.

In Good Taste

Local Farms Embrace Change in the Face of Coronavirus

Weathering early losses, Maryland farmers evolve to feed their communities.

-Photography by Mike Morgan

Connect With Us

Most Read


Frustrated by Trump, Hogan Lands 500,000 COVID-19 Tests from South Korea: First Lady Yumi Hogan helped negotiations with South Korean suppliers.

Lamenting a Spring Without The Orioles: What we miss most when the game goes away,

Maryland Farmers Market Association Closes in Vital Time for Local Foodways: What will the loss mean for Baltimore farms and food-insecure communities?

Teachers Continue to Fight for Education Equality While Instructing Virtually: Despite a lack of resources, students and teachers work to find feasible solutions.

How to Support Small Businesses Amid Pandemic Panic: As foot traffic slows due to coronavirus, owners worry about lasting impacts.