At first glance, the idea that a cartoon could fight the Islamic State, a brutal international terror organization, seems absurd. However, Mohamed Ahmed, the inventor of Average Mohamed, designed the cartoons to target a specific demographic — young people — who have ideologocial questions which, if answered incorrectly, can lead to radicalization.
The cartoons openly discuss issues troubling young Muslims — the same demographic the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is targeting. Questions of identity, religious authenticity and wanting to make a difference in the world are tackled in an honest way, using both Islamic sources and common sense.
The idea for Average Mohamed came to Ahmed after the realization that “it is average people recruiting each other and becoming extremists. So we felt like it’s the same way we need an average guy espousing the values of majority Muslims.”
Ahmed fit the bill. A gas station manager with a wife, mortage and four kids in Minneapolis, Minnesota (home to a large Somali community from which ISIS has successfully recruited), Ahmed decided four years ago that he needed to do something to stop the flow of young people becoming radicalized.
In addition to the Average Mohamed online cartoon series, Ahmed also takes his message to schools, mosques and madrasas. He describes his work as “a counter-ideology platform. And the message is about the values: three principles. One is peace, second one is democracy and the third one is anti-extremism. So it is a way to talk to the youth without veils. And we try to connect with them. [We’re getting an] enormous amount of support across faiths, gender, race.”
Fundamentally, Ahmed’s message to the kids he speaks to is that they have a choice — a choice about the world that are creating and in which they will be living.
“What world do we want? I want a world without extremism. And I’m willing to work on it. I’m willing to talk about it, I’m willing to put my money on it,” he said.
“Where a kid comes up to me and says — like, for example, the concept of suicide bombing. They said, ‘Well suicide bombers go to heaven.’ I said, ‘No, go back to your teachings. Who’s got to be lying, is it the teachings of the prophet himself who’s lying, or is it the teachings of Islamic State, al-Qaida and whoever these outfits are? And it starts bothering them’,” said Ahmed.
Watch the following espisode of Averge Mohamed about “Identity in Islam.” More episodes can be found at averagemohamed.com