By Nadia Ali
Exclusive | The Crescent Post
April 15, 2012
If you could devise a way to get future generations to view religion without prejudice, by placing more emphasis on religious tolerance and integration how would you go about it? For Mohammed Aaser, the answer was simple. All he did was to submit his idea to his school’s business competition of which he became a triumphant winner. He has consequently received funding, an award for his effort and is producing a product that aims to teach religious tolerance and integration.
Of course, it did help that the school Mohammed attended was the Harvard Business School and the competition was the annual Minimal Viable Product Award (MVP Award) open to students undertaking their Masters. Of the 88 or so submissions from teams of students, Mohammed made it through the elimination rounds to become one of only nine outstanding winners with his start-up idea of “Noor Kids.”
Mohammed’s idea was shared with his younger brother Amin, who instantly spearheaded its development. He took on the role of author and handling the business end of things. Amin had already pursued a degree at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and graduated with Honors and Distinction, majoring in Finance, Marketing, and Supply-chain Management. Whereas, Mohammed attended Harvard Business School where he graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration. Both were educationally equipped with qualifications to provide a strategic plan for Noor Kids comprising of a vision, concept and direction.
The initial concept of Noor Kids was sparked in 2010, by the controversy surrounding the building of the mosque “Park51” at Ground Zero, which lead to American Muslims being alienated, verbally abused and suffering physical attacks. For Mohammed and his brother Amin, this brought to light the reality of growing up as a Muslim in America. At that very moment, while debating the future of Islam in America their married sister proudly announced that she was pregnant. Suddenly, the brothers realized they would be uncles and the future of the next generation of American Muslims took on new meaning.
The vision they had for Noor Kids was to use of the medium of books to convey a message in full color with cartoon images specifically designed for little Muslims. The word “Noor” means ‘light’ in the Arabic language and is also reflected in the tagline which is “A light for Little Muslims.” Mohammed says, “It is hoped that the books will serve as a beacon of light for little Muslims; in brightening the picture of little Muslims in North America!” The topics share a wealth of basic Islamic beliefs that will build confidence in establishing religious identity in kids.
Even though Mohammed and Amin have full-time, demanding jobs, the brothers dedicate a majority of their free-time to developing Noor Kids Books. The technique they use is the Minimal Viable Product strategy which simply put, allows the testing of products on the market before investing heavily. It is regarded as a champion strategy in kick-starting new ventures which goes hand-in-hand with Mohammed and Amin’s immediate goals. “Since launching in July 2011, we’ve made considerable progress to get there – however, we still have a ways to go.” remarks Amin.
One of the primary aims of Noor Kids Books is to provide material to illustrate how American Muslims can integrate and practice Islam in a non-Muslim society. It is a fact that more than 63% of Muslims living in the U.S. are largely from an immigrant population having been born abroad thus, books were seen as the most effective means of communication. Amin explains that, “publishing a book as opposed to the current trend of creating an ebook, stems from who our readership is – namely first and second generation American Muslims who are familiar and more culturally accepting of books.” He further noted that because the stories are geared towards 4-8year olds, there is a value in turning pages and being able to connect physically with the book and its characters.
The brothers brainstormed until they created a viable Islamic book for children that are unlike those presently available on the market.
“One of our goals with Noor Kids Books is to provide children with an appreciation of the expanse of diversity which exists within Islam,” says Amin ”and to ‘normalize’ Islam such that children perceive their faith as one that is congruent with the culture that they are growing up in.”
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, of the 313,261,215 people who make up the entire population of the U.S. 78% identify themselves as Christians and just 0.8% identify themselves as Muslims.
For all kids born after the tragic events of 9/11in 2001, they were born into a world where Islam is associated with violence. In fact, in a 2010 poll conducted by ‘Time Magazine’ it showed 46% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence against nonbelievers.
For this reason, “Noor Kids Books exists is to help little Muslims fit in.” states Amin ”we aim to do this by providing Islamic education, Muslims culture, and American integration.” The books reach out to kids through its simple, lively illustrations which feature four memorable characters namely – Amin, Shireen, Asad, and Amira who have strong traits in specific areas. For example ‘Shireen’ is a nature and animal-lover and imparts fun facts and information sparking a child’s interest in that area.
The books have a rich format that not only comprise of a story but includes a quiz page, activities and a parent’s page all of which give a sense of education and entertainment. ”Our books address universal concepts applicable to all; however, the setting of these stories is primarily in North America.” says Amin. This combination also appeals to those Muslims living outside of the U.S. and is proven by overseas sales to places as far afield as South Africa and Japan.
Mohammed and Amin have already accomplished their desired goal of publishing the first set of four book titles which are currently being sold via their website www.noorkids.com through mostly annual online subscriptions.
They recently entered a nationwide contest operated by the retail giant Wal-Mart in which thousands of entries by individuals and businesses were given the opportunity to submit their product to vie for a place on their shelves. However, despite a strong response Noor Kids Books did not make it through to the top ten finalists. This has in no way deterred the brothers. “We have received a host of positive feedback about our book series and are consistently striving to improve our offerings, ” says Amin.
So, with character- driven plots, vibrant illustrations and a theme that is emotionally resonant for young readers Mohammed and Amin Aaser forge ahead in the editorial/publishing business. With these essential elements they are focused to make Noor Kids Books a unique reading experience that will shine a light into every American Muslim home.
Nadia Ali is a freelance writer born in London, UK and now living in the Caribbean. Her work has been published both online and in print. Her writing credits including the Travel Channel, Writers Market, Azizah Magazine, Cat Fancy and Whole Life Magazine.