Amin Aaser remembers growing up in Minnesota, where his Muslim faith often made him feel like an outsider, and being asked to abide by its customs and creed “felt like going to the dentist sometimes.”
Those memories are part of what motivates Aaser, who is now married with a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, Ramadan Create an online interactive “Ramadan camp” for Muslim children aged 5-12 all over the world.
Noor Kids Ramadan Summer Camp started two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that this year, about 90,000 families have signed up, and about 3,000 families join the live broadcast every night.
The camp flows out of a warehouse in Brooklyn Park, designed to resemble a treehouse. Children will spend 30 minutes to an hour listening to stories, playing games, working on projects, listening to guest speakers and sharing prayers.
It’s all about finding fun ways to help kids learn and discuss the principles of their faith while meeting other Muslim kids around the world.
Ramadan is the most important time of the year for Muslims, Aaser said. Fast from sunrise to sunset Also focus on improving yourself and building your beliefs. He said busy fasting Muslim parents often struggle to bring the spirit of Ramadan into their hearts and homes, and the camp aims to ease that burden.
Anum Ahmad, a Toronto mother of a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, said summer camp has become almost a daily ritual for her family. She said that while Toronto has a large Muslim population, her son attends a public school with only one Muslim child.
“It made a huge difference for him to see other kids his age speaking the same terms we use at home,” Ahmed said. “I could see in his expression how excited he was to see that there were so many others like him in the world. For the first time, I saw a spark related to his religious identity.”
The camp is a continuation of Aaser’s mission since 2012 to help Muslim children embrace their faith and feel accepted, especially in areas where they are a religious minority.
As a kid, he said, when his friends laughed at his mother’s hijab during a baseball game, he was so embarrassed that he asked her to pick him up 15 minutes after the game. The only other Muslims he saw were in mosques or on TV.
As he grew up, he wondered how he could help other Muslim children — including his niece and two children — become confident and embrace their Islamic faith.
In 2012, he and his brother Mohammad started Noor Kids, which has since grown to offer kid-focused books and online programs that emphasize character building through age-appropriate stories, such as gratitude, resilience and courage.
In 2016, following the death of his mother and in the midst of the US presidential election, Aaser decided to leave a career in venture capital to focus on building the Noor Kids brand with his wife.
Today, Noor Kids has a team of about 15 people around the world, most of them in Brooklyn Park.
Ahmed said her family has been reading the Noor Kids series of books for years because they contain analogies that explain the teachings of Islam in colorful ways that appeal to children.
“Sometimes when parents try to explain difficult concepts, it can get a little didactic, so I feel like maybe I’m not doing my best,” she says. “Sometimes if (her son) hears teaching from someone he thinks is really cool, like Armin, it can have a very different impact. It’s important to hear it from someone other than the parents.”
Aaser said he didn’t want the Ramadan camp interaction to stop at the end of the week for the holidays, so Noor Kids has launched Muslim Tree House, which will offer his young audience twice-weekly programming.
“It is my hope that through Noor Kids and our online programme, we can build a better future for our children,” he said. “The child’s mind is the beginning of change, and if you can plant the seeds of character and citizenship, I hope in the long run it pays off for these people.”
Margaret Stafford, Associated Press
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