Online program seeks to give identity to Muslim children

Amin Aaser recalls that growing up in Minnesota his Muslim faith often made him feel like an outsider, and that having to follow its practices and principles “sometimes felt like going to the dentist.”

Those memories are part of what prompted Aaser, now a married man with a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, to spend the holy month of Ramadan producing an interactive online program called “Ramadan Camp” for children. Muslims from 5 to 12 years old from all over the world.

The Noor Kids Ramadan Camp started two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 90,000 families have signed up this year and about 3,000 go live every night, he said.

The show is broadcast from a warehouse in Brooklyn Park that is designed to look like a tree house. Children spend 30-60 minutes listening to stories, playing games, doing projects, listening to guest speakers, and praying.

It’s all with the goal of finding fun ways to help children learn and discuss the principles of their faith while meeting other Muslim children from around the world.

Aaser said Ramadan is the most important time of the year for Muslims, who fast from sunrise to sunset as they focus on improving and strengthening their faith. Busy Muslim parents who fast often can have trouble bringing the spirit of Ramadan into their hearts and homes, he said, and this camp is meant to lighten that load.

Anum Ahmad, a mother of a 6-year-old boy and a 2-year-old daughter in Toronto, said the camp has become an almost daily ritual for her family. Although Toronto has a significant Muslim population, her son attends a public school with only one other Muslim child, she said.

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“It makes a big difference for him to see other kids his age talk in the same terms we use at home,” Ahmad said. “I can see from his expressions how excited he is to see that there are so many other people like him around the world. For the first time I have seen a spark related to his religious identity.

The camp is a continuation of Aaser’s mission from 2012 to help Muslim children embrace their faith and feel accepted, particularly in places where they are a religious minority.

He remembers being so embarrassed when his friends made fun of his mother’s hijab when he was playing baseball as a child that he asked her to pick him up 15 minutes after the game ended. And the only other Muslims he ever saw were in a mosque or on television.

As she grew older, she wondered how she could help other Muslim children, including her niece and her two children, to trust and accept their Islamic beliefs.

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