For Mohammad and Amin Aaser it wasn't easy growing up Muslim in Minnesota after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A friend turned on Amin, who was 13 at the time, and started bullying him. In Ramadan, he would go to the library instead of the lunchroom so no one would know he was fasting. And when his mother picked him up after games, he begged her to come late so teammates wouldn't see her headscarf.
While Amin Aaser reclaimed his Muslim identity in college, he, his brother, and their sister, didn't want younger Muslims to struggle with the same issues.
"The three of us began reflecting on our own childhood, about what it was like to grow up as a Muslim in North America," he told Minnesota Public Radio. "That's when the light bulb went off. We said there's no way we want Aasiya, my sister's daughter, to experience the same challenges as we did."
For Aasiya, and the tens of thousands of young Muslims growing up in the US today, the brothers created Noor Kids in 2011, then one of the only children's book series aimed at Muslims.
The books, geared at 4- to 8-year-olds, tackle complex issues like bullying, charity, and patience, with simple stories. It's set in a town called Maple Grove, which is where the brothers grew up, and follow four fictional animal characters, Amira, a rabbit, Amin, a panda, Shireen, a bear, and Asad, a lion.
According to Noor Kids, the books have been sold to 25,000 households all over the world, including Japan, South Africa, and Australia. The series has also helped give rise to a new genre in publishing, Islamic children's books, which now has its own category on Amazon.
For the Aaser brothers, the goal is to offer Muslim kids, like all kids from minority backgrounds, the opportunity to see themselves in the books they were reading.
“Just as Dora the Explorer exposed many to positive impressions of the Latino-American community, we hope that Noor Kids can play that role for the American-Muslim community,” Amin Aaser, who left a career working with Fortune 500 companies to start the series and explore other faith-based projects, told a local Minnesota magazine. “Our long-term goal is to use Noor Kids as a vehicle to foster Muslim integration between communities across North America, Australia, and Western Europe through publishing books, video games, and TV shows.”
And while the books are aimed at Muslim youth, the brothers said they were surprised to learn that about 10 to 15 percent of their subscribers are non-Muslims.
“Parents, irrespective of faith, aspire to instill the values" promoted in the books, like gratitude and patience,” Amin Aaser said.
The books also help non-Muslims understand Islam.
“There are a lot of folks who really don’t know much about Islam and are looking for simple resources to understand a bit more about what their Muslim neighbors believe in."