On Monday, I had the opportunity to speak to students at the University of Baltimore about countering Islamophobia through open, positive dialogue. It was an honor, as always!
This week I had the opportunity to return to the campus of Johns Hopkins University, where I completed my MA/MBA years ago, to kick off the Bloomberg School of Public Health's incredibly important new "Understanding American Muslims" seminar.
If you're in the area, I urge you to support this timely new endeavor. If you're not, don't worry – they livestreamed Wednesday's event, so you can watch this seminar series from anywhere.
You can read more about it here:
Mansoor Shams, a Muslim American veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, invited his audience Wednesday to call out whatever stereotypes came to mind just by looking at him.
When, inevitably, no one did, Shams supplied them himself: "The terrorist. The Bin Laden. The ISIS guy."
Shams, speaking at a Johns Hopkins seminar on American Muslims, challenged everyone to grapple directly with those kind of thoughts rather than flicking them away to the subconscious.
Interested in having me speak at your event or institution?
Get in touch and let's see what we can do.
Recently, a news crew from PBS Newshour joined me on a trip into Baltimore's Inner Harbor, where I met passersby on the street with my "I'm a Muslim and a U.S. Marine, Ask Anything" sign. You can watch PBS's video about my work here.
Last week I also had the opportunity to travel to New York City, where I took my sign downtown. A team from BuzzFeed joined me there – watch their video here.
Making these trips to meet real Americans on the ground has been such a rewarding and educational experience. I'm planning to make similar trips to D.C. and Philadelphia shortly – stay tuned for updates!
Last week I had the chance to Skype into a classroom of middle school students in a small town in Iowa – population 3,500. Had a great time talking to these incredibly bright seventh and eight graders! In fact, I'm pretty sure I came away from our discussion having learned just as much as they did.
This weekend, I helped organize an event titled "Veterans and Muslims United Against Hatred" at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Baltimore's mosque.
I had the great honor of speaking alongside Retd. Col. Scott Cooper of Marine Corps, founder of Veterans for American Ideals, an organization I've worked with previously; Sarah Feinberg, U.S. Marine Veteran now working as senior financial analyst at The Washington Post; and AMC Baltimore's own president, Dr. Faheem Younus.
You can read more about this event here.
Earlier this month I spent some time in Houston and Denver, as part of a quasi-tour I'm doing across the country while carrying a sign reading "I'm Muslim and a Marine. Ask anything." Over the past couple of days I had the opportunity to spend some time and spread some love in the beautiful cities of Portland, Oregon...
It was such an amazing experience to meet and interact with you all there. I learned so much, and can only hope you took just as much away from our encounters, too.
I'm back at home on the East Coast now. Insha'Allah – God willing – I plan to hit the downtown Baltimore and New York City this week! If you're in the area then, keep an eye on my Twitter feed. I'll be updating you all with more information there.
For the past week or so I've been doing some traveling around the country. While in Houston and Denver, I decided to take to the streets with a sign reading "I'm a Muslim U.S. Marine. Ask anything." I was joined by my good friend Harris Zafar, the author of Demystifying Islam.
You can watch a live Periscope of our work in Houston here.
You can watch a live Periscope of our work in Denver here.
This was totally unlike anything I've done before, whether it's here in Baltimore or virtually via Periscope. I've been so moved by the reactions and responses of the people I meet on the ground that I'm considering branching out for a full U.S. tour. (I spoke about that a little on my interview with NPR today – you can listen to that here.) So if you're interested in collaborating with me in your city, university, place of worship or organization, please reach out to me. Let's work together.
Over the past several weeks, I've been speaking with the non-partisan, 501(c)(3) human rights organization Veterans for American Ideals, a group of vets working together to advocate for policy changes and actions to make America a better place. They're rallying vets in support of causes like refugee protection and U.S. leadership against enabling mass atrocities in Syria. It's an organization and mission that only grows more vital in the world's current political climate.
As November ended, I had the honor of joining about 30 veteran leaders at VFAI's Leader Convening in Washington, D.C. There, I spent two days lending my efforts to help develop their initiatives to combat Islamophobia and push for an expansion of the SIV program.
The weekend before Eid-ul-Fitr, I had the opportunity to stand alongside Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and spread the message of love for all, hatred for none.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Baltimore hosted an iftar and Ramadan Q&A session Sunday, July 3 at Masjid Baitus Samad. The keynote address was by none other than Sen. Cardin, who was joined by staffer Rev. Jerome Stephens.
I was also interviewed by WBALTV during the event.
I was honored to be a part of this short video, produced by James T. Elric, that preaches the message of love.
"This is a call to action. We must speak out against the fear mongering and bigotry that is surging in America. Please help share this video and help inspire people to stand together and stand against those who try to divide us. Islamophobia is rampant and precipitating heinous crimes against innocent people. It is also driving us to turn our backs on refugees who deserve our compassion. Please support Syrian refugees and support Muslims in America. Let's not make the mistakes of our past. The news media can choose to promote fear, but they cannot stop a video from going viral."
Baltimore was left in a state of shock in the wake of explosive protests over Freddy Gray's death. The atmosphere was tense for weeks after the height of the riots. My brothers and sisters in faith at Baltimore's Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and I realized that the real victims of the riots were the city's most fragile citizens: its poor, its elderly, and its children.
"We're not just giving away a free ice cream. We are also spreading love."
So members of our community delivered hot meals to more than 60 senior citizens at a local shelter near pharmacy that burned down in the riots. But what about helping heal tomorrow's generation?
That's when we got an idea. We rented out an ice cream truck, printed out a sign that read "Free Ice Cream for Kids," and began driving around the city.
Unsurprisingly, the kids loved it.
After seeing the reception to our project, we kicked it up a notch. We spent 18 days traveling around 18 of Charm City's schools and parks to bring a little of its sweetness back.
"We're not just giving away a free ice cream. We are also spreading love, making friends, healing wounds," I told Shahina Bashir for her piece in the Baltimore Sun. "We are not giving out pamphlets; we just want to give the children hugs and tell them, 'we love you.'"
City officials also lent us their support. We had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at City Hall about our project.
And at our Roosevelt Park stop, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby swung by with her husband Councilman Nick Mosby their two children.