IRVING, Texas (AP) — The decision by the family of a Texas teenager to move to Qatar is not surprising in light of lingering anti-Muslim sentiment that makes many U.S. followers of Islam feel as if they are “under siege,” a spokesman for a national Muslim-American group said Wednesday.
The teen, Ahmed Mohamed, shot to national prominence last month after he was arrested for bringing a homemade digital clock to school that a teacher mistook for a possible bomb.
On Tuesday, the family announced that they would soon leave their modest home in the Dallas suburb of Irving and move to Qatar, a wealthy oil nation on the Persian Gulf. There, a foundation has offered to pay for Ahmed’s high school and college education in Doha.
Yaser Birjas, imam of the Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Irving, said he wishes the 14-year-old well but worries about the stress that can come with celebrity.
“I hope that he does not get overwhelmed and consumed with that because now the expectation of him is so high,” Birjas said. “And he’s just a kid.”
Birjas cautioned that people who move from America to Muslim countries are often disappointed when they discover restrictions they never experienced in the U.S.
“Here in America, you have much more freedom practicing the faith,” he said.
For others, the family move to the Middle East sends an unfortunate message.
Yousuf Fahimuddin, a Muslim journalist in the San Francisco Bay area, believes the family’s departure will only perpetuate the idea that Muslims are not loyal to the U.S.
“I don’t think moving to Qatar, a country with its own share of problems, constructively helps fight prejudice,” Fahimuddin said in an email.
Instead, he said, “Muslims should try to share their common humanity with others to demonstrate that they are regular people.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the U.S. has seen a significant rise in the level of anti-Muslim sentiment — feelings he said were reflected by the political attacks of GOP presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
“The Muslim-American community feels under siege by all this,” Hooper said.
Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, told The Dallas Morning News that the family was moving “to a place where my kids can study and learn and all of them being accepted by that country.”
The family said in a statement that Ahmed will enroll in a program offered by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. He received a full scholarship for his secondary and undergraduate education.
The foundation was launched two decades ago to advance Qatar’s development through education and scientific research. The foundation’s umbrella includes outposts of American universities, a business hub designed to foster technological innovation and cultural projects such as the national library and a philharmonic orchestra.
American university campuses, which attract both Qataris and foreign students, are clustered in the foundation’s Education City on the western edge of the capital city of Doha. They include Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Northwestern University and Texas A&M University.
Ahmed recently visited Qatar as part of a whirlwind month that included a stop Monday at the White House and an appearance Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol.
The family said in their statement that they’ve been “overwhelmed by the many offers of support” since Ahmed’s arrest Sept. 14.
The teen took the clock to his high school to show a teacher, but another teacher thought it could be a bomb. The school contacted police, who handcuffed the boy and took him to a detention center. He was suspended for three days.
A police photo of the device shows a carrying case containing a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display. Authorities eventually concluded that there was no evidence the teen meant to cause alarm, and he was not charged. His parents later withdrew him from the school.
Frances King, a neighbor of the family, said she visited with them Wednesday to say goodbye.
“I think all this publicity they’ve gotten because of all this … kind of hurt them,” King said.