amin aaser noor kids muslim children

Meet the Executive Director of ‘Noor Kids’ — A Book Series for Muslim Children

Noor Kids, an Islamic Children book series, was created by Amin Aaser, a Muslim American worried about the future of his niece.

Today, Noor Kids has sold more than 25,000 books across 25 countries. The stories feature adorable characters that address Islamic concepts such as honesty and gratitude.

Noor Kids is also a forerunner in the studies of Muslim children, especially in America. Their latest project, the Muslim Identity Campaign, will be researching the effects of Islamophobia on Muslim children. I had the opportunity to speak with the Managing Director, Amin Aaser on Noor Kids and their upcoming research.

Muslim Girl: Tell me about yourself, and your background.

Amin Aaser: Noor Kids has much more to do with our team than with me. I’m proud of the creative, scholarly, and educational experts that we’ve got on board. People like Armaan Siddiqi, a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at Harvard who conducts the Islamic research behind each title, and Kenneth Molloy, an MFA in dramaturge at Harvard University who helps create each of the stories we offer in our books. We also benefit from Sana Aaser, an MA in Education focusing on equity and social justice, who has developed curriculum and pedagogy, along with Annie Idris, a Toronto-based architect turned illustrator who creatively produces each of our children’s books.

Friends would make fun of my fasting during Ramadan, tease my mother’s hijab during baseball games, and continually associate me with terrorism. It was tough to be Muslim and fit in.

My career began with some of the world’s largest businesses, 3M, Target, General Mills, and Cargill, across finance, marketing, and operations. Most recently, I was part of M&A and Corporate Venture Capital at General Mills, where our team of six would make decisions to spend millions of dollars to buy or invest into companies. In November, after I finished an MBA at UC Berkeley, I decided to pursue Noor Kids full-time as the Executive Director.

What made you want to start Noor Kids?

Growing up as in Minnesota, it was challenging to be Muslim after Sept. 11. Friends would make fun of my fasting during Ramadan, tease my mother’s hijab during baseball games, and continually associate me with terrorism. It was tough to be Muslim and fit in.

This experience forced me to be introspective — and decide to be Muslim, despite being born into it. At the same time my sister, Shireen, announced that she was having a baby in late 2011, there was a controversy about an Islamic center being built near ground zero. It made me reflect on the challenges that my niece, Aasiya, would likely experience growing up as a Muslim in America. I wanted to help solve this problem. I wanted to figure out how we could help young Muslims build pride in their faith.

Noor Kids started as a passion project; it was something that I would do on the side, in addition to my full-time job. But, two years ago, when my mom passed away and I lowered her casket into her final resting place, it made me reflect on my mortality, and that I, too, will meet my maker. At the time, I was debating what I wanted to do after completing my MBA at UC Berkeley, and alhumdulillah, the experience gave me clarity. I wanted to serve my community, country, and world. Today, I am doing that full-time through Noor Kids.

How do you hope Noor Kids will impact children?

Our goal is to help parents raise confident Muslim kids. Over the last two years, our team has conducted research at Berkeley and San Francisco State University to understand evidence-based approaches used by the Black, Latino, and Jewish communities to raise confident children, as each of these communities have faced discrimination in America as well. Through this research, we were able to create a curriculum (e.g. what to teach), and pedagogy (e.g. how to teach) that is integrated into each of our titles.

This experience forced me to be introspective — and decide to be Muslim, despite being born into it.

With respect to our curriculum, our books focus on three primary topics: citizenship education, character education, and Islamic education. Citizenship education is primarily concerned with teaching children their obligation to serve the world around them and is critical because it helps facilitate “socialization” among Muslim children. That is, it helps ensure that Muslim children feel like they fit in.

Character education is primarily concerned with facilitating social, emotional, and ethical development among children and is critical for those who face discrimination because it serves as an “engine” to keep going. Islamic education is primarily concerned with helping children understand their faith and is critical because Muslim children must understand their own unique beliefs, values, and history.

With respect to our pedagogy, our books integrate three key instructional elements: role models, critical thinking, and parents. Role models are critical because when children see prominent Muslim-Americans in media, children feel a sense of “belonging.” Role models are integrated into our book series through our four fun and playful characters as well as “guest role models,” such as mathematician Al-Qalasadi, who are embedded within stories.

Critical thinking is necessary because each child develops their unique identity through a process of critical thinking. Included in our stories are critical thinking questions to facilitate this process among children. Parents play the most significant role in identity development among children. Each of our books is designed to be a tool that brings parents and children together to engage in conversations about faith.

What is the 1 in 3 Muslims research project?

In early 2016, our team pioneered first-of-its-kind research (download here) with San Francisco State University to understand the effects of Islamophobia on 5-to-9 year old kids. The study we conducted sought to replicate the famous “Clark Doll Test” for Muslim children. The initial results are troubling:

  • 1 in 3 children did not want to tell others that they are Muslim
  • 1 in 2 children did not know whether they could be both Muslim and American
  • 1 in 6 children would pretend not to be Muslim

Over the next year, we plan to expand our initial study, researching 5-to-10 additional cities across North America, to understand the impact of Islamophobia on young Muslims, and identify specific, evidence-based, and actionable solutions to strengthen the identity of young Muslims.

We want to help equip parents, community leaders, and educators with solutions to help raise confident Muslim children.

What do you hope to achieve through this research?

The fact of the matter is, Islamophobia is at a record high. For parents of Muslim children, there is appropriate concern on how these children will grow up with confidence in their Muslim identity. We want to help equip parents, community leaders, and educators with solutions to help raise confident Muslim children, by answering the following questions:

  • How are 5-to-9 year old Muslims across the U.S. & Canada being affected by Islamophobia?
  • How does the confidence in religious identity of Muslim children in America compare to that of Muslim children in Canada?
  • What are the common characteristics among children that exhibit pride in their religious identity and those that do not? How do parent decisions impact a child’s religious identity?
  • What role, if any, does full-time or weekend Islamic school play in a child’s identity development?
  • What role, if any, does a family’s decision to live in a Republican-majority city or a Democrat-majority city have on a child’s identity development?
  • What role, if any, does living in a city with a large or small concentration of Muslims have on a child’s identity development?

How can those who wish to help contribute? 

Simply put, we can’t do this work alone. We need help. To conduct this study across 10 cities, we must raise $50,000 to cover the costs associated with this research.

We’ve launched a fundraising effort and are giving away fantastic rewards for those that contribute. Alhumdulillah, we have already had over 325 people contribute to our crowdfunding campaign and we’ve raised nearly $30,000. Every dollar counts.

What made you want to research this topic and why is it important to you?

I was 13 when 9/11 happened. In the years that followed, I began to feel ashamed of showing my “muslimness” in public. Now, I want to help solve that problem. I want Muslim kids to be proud of who they are and what they believe. mgheart

To find out more about Noor Kids, check out their website and their Facebook. Donations and more information about the Muslim Identity Campaign can be found here.