Muslims reach out to the community at Pioneer Courthouse Square
Two Muslim Americans hit the bricks at Pioneer Courthouse Square Wednesday.
Harris Zafar wore a bright blue t-shirt that read, "Talk to a Muslim," on the front, and, "Ask me anything," on the back. He's also carried a handmade sign on a dry erase board that said, "Talk to a Muslim American."
Mansoor Shams dressed casually. His sign said, "I'm Muslim and a U.S. Marine. Ask anything."
Shams joined the Marines in 2000 and served for four years. He was honorably discharged and currently lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.
Both men are part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and American citizens. Zafar lives here. They came to Portland's Living Room to engage and educate the public about their religion.
"It's not about politics," said Zafar. "This is about people fearing the unknown. And we're trying to, instead of fighting people for equal rights, get rid of the root problem, which is the ignorance."
They've only teamed up recently, and done this just once before in Houston, Texas. Reactions have generally been good, still it's tough to put themselves out there.
"It takes courage and it feels grossly uncomfortable at times, but it's a necessity because people aren't going out of their way to find out about their Muslim neighbors," said Zafar.
After working on their signs on the steps in the Square, the two headed out to try and engage the public.
Mansoor wound up finding a couple who are Christian, and interested in learning more about the Quran. He told them about the chapter in the Quran dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"It's called Surah Maryam," he said. "My religion teaches me to believe in Jesus and Moses and Abraham and all the prophets," he added.
They continued to make their way around the square talking to people, answering questions, even taking selfies with some people.
While this was one day for just a couple hours, they said they'd like to continue to open the conversation in other cities around the country.
"It's really about having dialogue, so we can just unite as Americans," Zafar said.
Shams has a website, MuslimMarine.org, and said that he just started this type of outreach in the last week, but is now getting inspired to take it to all 50 states.