Average Mohamed challenges intolerance through dialogue and narrative sharing. In doing so, it provides global youth with critical thinking tools that promote diversity and build community. In the interview below Mohamed Amin Ahmed shares why he created Average Mohamed, and how it’s changing the American Muslim narrative.
Describe Average Mohamed.
Ahmed: Average Mohamed is just that — an average Muslim perspective on intolerance emanating from extreme fringe of our faith. Mohamed is the most common name in the world. So, Average Mohamed is a moniker that uses popular culture, such as cartoons, to make the case against intolerance.
What is its purpose?
Ahmed: The intolerant people that are claiming our faith are just that — average folks radicalizing average folks. It dawned on me and friends that it will take an average Mohamed —easy to use, easy to understand and even easy to disseminate means — to counter their values. We use our noble faith, logic, democracy and common sense to counter their messages.
When did it launch?
Ahmed: We started the process about four years ago. I paid for the content creation, but friends and associates suggested we become a nonprofit. So, we became one to try to leverage more resources.
How does this initiative help the next generation?
Ahmed: It validates true Islam, the values of the majority of Muslims globally. It teaches our values, as not only Muslims, but Americans living in a free society with inalienable rights and freedoms. With this, we pass along to the current and next generation the values of peace. We Muslims greet each other with peace — Assalamu Aleikum — is fundamentally a Muslim value.
What prompted you to launch Average Mohamed?
Ahmed: Our community of Muslims in Minnesota is aggressively being preyed upon by forces of intolerance — and that is also true globally. A number of our youth left to join Al Shabaab, an Alqaeda affiliate in Somalia. That was bad, but then came ISIS — they too got recruits out our community. Enough was enough. We needed a way to talk to our youth using respect and dignity for our faith and values.
How did it start?
Ahmed: First we made videos. Then through research and development we settled on cartoons. This generation is the generation of The Simpsons and Family Guy. They are used to seeing cartoons. We target kids between the ages of 8-16 years old. We use social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to disseminate globally, but we also go out and speak to kids directly in schools, mosques, libraries and at youth camps. Last year we spoke to more than 16,000 kids on issues ranging from identity, diversity, freedom of speech, women rights in Islam and many more topics. All done to undercut intolerant views and perspectives.
What support do you need to make the next big impact?
Ahmed: That is our Achilles heel — the lack of resources. This fight against extremism is one where the message is as important as law enforcement means and warfare mechanisms, but the resources to spread the message are not there. We need to talk to our youth globally, but to do so we need to keep creating content — and that requires resources. Al Qaeda makes about three videos a month, ISIS does dozens; they use magazines to do their recruitment. We can barely raise enough money from our governments or foundations to match their work. We need to overpower them, but we just can’t — we don’t have enough scale and we need to.
Why is Average Mohamed so important in our society?
Ahmed: We are not just targeting Muslims. We speak at synagogues, churches, secular organizations and settings. The feedback we get most often is: “We didn’t know these messages of peace are part of Islam.” We are shattering stereotypes while building interfaith dialogue, which we consider our civic responsibility.
Tell us a little about your background.
Ahmed: My hobby is poems. I am a Somali American. Our people are known as the nation of poets. From Rumi, the 12th century Persian, to Somali poet Hadrawi, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, I love them all. This is my passion.
I am a father with four Muslim American children, keeping them educated keeps me busy. I live in Minnesota and am active within my community. I sit on the Somali American Task Force, which deals with our community issues. I am also involved with a Christian group, Feed My Starving Children, which sends meals to Somalia. We’ve worked with synagogues, churches and mosques to raise more than 19,000 volunteers to pack meals.
I am a student who goes to University of Minnesota. I volunteer for the State Department International Visitor Program, where I get to talk to government officials about Average Mohamed and how to have that grow.
How is digital media a form of both education and leadership?
Ahmed: Digital media is the new frontier. It can be an ally when used properly, but it is our enemy when used to prey on us. It’s the best way for us to showcase our values and talk about humanity. When you stand up with a position of dignity and respect, digital media gives you the platform to get noticed. From The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CBS 60 Minutes to cable and global media, we have been noticed. No matter what we do, we stick with our values as American Muslims: peace, democracy and anti-intolerance or extremism.