These days there’s a lot of competition for the attention of young children. Pre-school entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry in our society. The likes of Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans and WonderPets! are developed by teams of researchers, psychologists and marketing professionals with the sole purpose of captivating your child’s heart and mind. Many of these characters are beautifully made. They are interesting, educational and teach some very nice secular lessons about things like teamwork and friendship. Yet, American Muslim parents struggle to find equally enticing ways to keep their children engaged with their Islamic identity.
Amin Aaser gave the lack of aspirational Muslim characters for kids a lot of thought and decided to do something about it. Over the past two years, Amin and his brother developed a series of books called Noor Kids which introduce young Muslims to characters that are not only competitively cute, but which teach children Islamic lessons in a beautiful, compelling and colorful way.
Aaser was fortunate to grow up as part of a tight-knit Muslim community in Minnesota, but after 9/11, he found himself regularly feeling uncomfortable in his own skin. He also watched a lot of other young Muslims struggle with maintaining confidence in their religious identity. Now as an adult, Aaser is a Sunday School teacher at his local mosque and engages the five- seven-year-olds as a focus group for Noor Kids. Their feedback, he says, has been invaluable.
“The thought behind these books is that we can establish very strong roots at a very young age. It normalizes faith and makes Islam as regular and ordinary as apple pie. Kids should feel comfortable with who they are, and it’s tools like this that help them do that.”
Aaser didn’t go to school to study children’s literature and doesn’t have any children himself. He is employed full time at General Mills as a financial strategist, but has been able to develop Noor Kids with guidance from marketing professionals he works with.
“Think about cereal,” he said. “If we made the perfect cereal for parents it would include all kinds of vitamins, minerals, whole grains, etc, but it would probably taste really terrible. The challenge is knowing what the parents want but putting it in a form will enjoy, so that the kids will consume it over and over again.”
Once the idea for Noor Kids was hatched, Aaser went to the library every weekend for three months to read and research what works in children’s literature. He also purchased a lot of Islamic kids books currently on the market. He started a Facebook page to determine what kind of market there was for a series like Noor Kids. Astoundingly, without even having a product the Facebook page garnered more than 1000 people within the first three days it was launched.
The next step for Aaser was to create a focus group of fifty ‘parent ambassadors’ who provided him with valuable feedback during the development of the characters and book format. Aaser and his brother then engaged a Muslim art studio, which helped them develop their ideas.
Last year, Noor Kids was submitted for an entrepreneurship competition at Harvard Business School and ended up being selected as one of the top five ideas out of almost 100 applicants, garnering Aaser some initial funding and a valuable endorsement from the highly esteemed institution.
Since the launch of Noor Kids, Aaser has had an exceptionally warm reception from American Muslim consumers. Feedback via the website has been enthusiastic and encouraging. Community leaders have embraced the books and promoted them within their respective communities. Aaser and his entire family, all of whom have developed their own role in producing the books, have seen their vision come to life and are finding joy and fulfillment in helping young Muslims forge their identity in a way that speaks directly to them.
Noor Kids series of books is available on a subscription basis at NoorKids.com.