What Ahmed’s Clock Means For a Muslim-American Mother

When my Baba was a young boy of seven in a village in northern Pakistan, he took apart the watch he was given as a gift from his uncle from America. His intention was to see what made the clock run and put it back once he figured it out.  Of course, he never put it back the right way and the watch never worked again, but it was this curiosity that led to his becoming an engineer and eventually settling in America.

My son, Musa, is like my father.  He breaks things and tries to rebuild them. Every time I get frustrated, Baba tells me to let Musa be.

“He is learning. His actions demonstrate his intelligence. Musa is going to be an engineer and invent things like me,” Baba laughs. “Let him explore.”

Baba’s warm laugh soothes me and I silently pray Musa is just like his Baba Jaan.

My three-year old son’s room is filled with puzzles, colorful tiles, K’nex, and countless toys he still doesn’t know how to use. Most days, Musa spends hours in his room creating cars and busses out of nothing but chairs and blankets — his younger sister, Anabiya, emulating him.

I am amazed at his resourcefulness. Watching from the bedroom door, I hold my breath, reveling in their curiosity, patience, tenacity  to learn and create.  These little human beings will one day be creating bigger things that hopefully contribute to greater society. At least I pray that this creativity leads to a life of innovation and growth.

Yesterday, I was shocked by a picture of a skinny young boy wearing a NASA t-shirt, handcuffed, looking confused. This brilliant inventor was arrested at the age of 14 for building a clock from scratch and proudly sharing it with his teacher.

This young Muslim boy was taken from his school in Irving, Texas in handcuffs, and denied his basic rights while in custody, all because he has the qualities I celebrate in my children.

I will never know the very real fears of Ahmed’s mother — a mother to a black, African, Arab and Muslim male child. Although the motives behind the incident are not confirmed, #IStandWithAhmed is unsettling for any parent.  As a mother to a brown Muslim child of my own who also has a very Muslim name, I have always worried about the Islamophobic climate in which my children are growing up. I wrote about it in 2012, before the Chapel Hill shootings and before Ahmed Mohamed. However, as my children grow older, I feel the need to have a conversation I don’t know if I am ready to give, or if it’s one my young children will even understand.

While other parents dread talking to their children about puberty, I, and other Muslim mothers like me, will have to talk to our children about growing up in a world where Muslims are seen as the enemy.

This idea is perpetuated by the sensationalistic media: just yesterday, the GOP debate’s focus on “Islamic radicals” was unsettling, especially when the term is so ambiguous — and purposefully so. Admittedly, I understand that in the advent of social media, the good and the bad become more apparent and so the bigotry is simply more amplified, but it is scary nonetheless.

What do I even say in a conversation about Islamophobia?

Do I tell my son, because of his gender, his name, his religion, his dark hair and brown skin, that he is seen as a threat and thus must hold back his true self?  Do I tell him not to share his innovations? Should I encourage him to sit back in class and not be vocal about his beliefs? Will I have to teach him not to speak up against those who are oppressing him or others?

Do I stifle his creativity?

Do I cripple his spirit simply because I don’t want him to be “red flagged”?

Even if it is not me who stifles him, I understand that there are people and institutions that make it their business to oversee my Muslim-named, Muslim male child, and hold his future is in their hands. They are not nearly as forgiving as I am. The teacher who turned Ahmed in may have thought she was just doing her job. And maybe if my son showed up in a class like hers the same would happen no matter how much I protected my child. I try not to let these thoughts terrify me — that my innocent creative child may end up behind bars for expressing his creativity or simply being himself — but I also know that this is something I cannot help. Things must be changed on a structural level for my son to not be viewed as a suspect simply because of the way he looks or what he believes.

One thing that #IStandWithAhmed has reminded me is to continue talking to my children about the very different people that are out there. To remind them that there are people who will love us and hate us for no other reason than who we are.  I will teach them to stay true to who they are. To celebrate who they are. To shine. To be loud. To stand up for the truth, for ourselves, and for those who are marginalized — and to fear none but the One who created us all.

I cannot predict the future, nor can I change it, even though I will do the best I can to make my son’s life easier by challenging racism and Islamophobia on all levels.

As a mother who has already lost one child, I know that my child’s mortality is not in my hands. So, I want my children to live: to truly seize the moment and be the best they can be, until the end of time, whenever that may be.

I want Musa to never stop growing, never stop learning, and never stop being curious.

All I can do is pray that Allah guides me as a mother to teach my children in the best way possible, that He grants them the wisdom and strength to follow their dreams, and that no one stops them from being the great humans I know they will be. Ameen.

Written by Sabina Khan-Ibarra.