Ahmed Mohamed, 14, became an overnight sensation when he was detained after a high school teacher mistook a homemade clock he brought to class for a bomb.
A year ago, Ahmed Mohamed became ‘Clock Boy.’ Now, he can’t escape that moment.
The news crew is here, but the famous boy is still asleep. He had just flown 22 hours, back to this squat stone house where he used to live when he was just a regular 14-year-old. His bright green go-kart is still out back. A year ago, he could have woken up and spent hours tinkering with its engine. He could have spent the day on his trampoline, or just watching funny YouTube videos on his phone.
Instead, he’s waking up to the sound of more reporters in the living room. Because he’s not Ahmed Mohamed, a regular 14-year-old. He’s “Clock Boy,” a viral sensation, the accidental embodiment of a national debate about Muslims being dangerous — or not. A black youth mistreated by overzealous cops — or an example of vigilance against potential terrorism.
So Ahmed gets out of bed, opens the bedroom door and steps into the hall. He lifts his arm in a half wave.
“There he is!” The cameraman shouts, like he’s seeing an old friend. Ahmed got taller, they all point out. New glasses and a growth spurt have subtly transformed him from boyish to teenage.
“He is still sleepy,” his father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, apologizes.
The reporters are from Fox 4, a local TV channel. Mohamed invited them here, on Ahmed’s first day back in Texas after nine months in Qatar. They moved a month after Ahmed was arrested for possessing a homemade clock that his school deemed suspicious-looking. The move, it seemed, was an attempt to escape the spotlight, or at least the hate mail and death threats that came with it.
And yet, Ahmed’s summer homecoming was heralded to reporters with a news release sent out by the family and its supporters: Clock Boy is back, and ready to be interviewed.
“You just wake up?” Ahmed’s uncle, Aldean, says. “Go prepare yourself.”
Ahmed changes into a T-shirt with the number 23 — for LeBron James — across the chest. They hand him a microphone. He doesn’t need to be told how to put it on. They seat him on a velvet-tufted chair.
“All right, Ahmed, it’s just you and me talking, the rest of the world listening,” the reporter says. “So don’t be nervous.”
His father interrupts.
“Do you want to talk to me? Or just him?”
“Oh. Yeah, we’ll talk to Dad, too. We’ll just do it separate.”
The living room is packed: cousins, aunts, grandmother. Ahmed’s Uncle Aldean, who in the early 1980s was the first Mohamed to move from Sudan — where their family owned a successful cotton farm and attended prestigious schools — to New York, where he sold balloons and hot dogs in front of Rockefeller Center. Ahmed’s father, an imam, who followed his brother to America and ever since has been explaining to anyone who will listen that real Muslims are peaceful. Their family friend Anthony Bond, the founder of the Irving NAACP, who has been calling the Mohameds in Qatar to tell them how, since they left, things are getting worse. Clashes between black communities and the police are in the news every day. Donald Trump, the man who wants to ban Muslim immigrants like the Mohameds from the United States, may become president.
Everyone’s eyes are on Ahmed.
The reporter leans forward.
“How empowered do you feel to help make a difference in the world today, given what you’ve been through?” he asks.
“Wait,” Ahmed says. “Did the interview start?”
Yes. The reporter moves on to another question.
Bond gives Ahmed a reassuring smile. He was the first person the family called when they brought Ahmed home from the police station. They wondered: Would this have happened if his name wasn’t Ahmed Mohamed?
Bond said: Let’s call the media.
He said: This city has transformed from whitewashed to incredibly diverse, and we’re still being mistreated.
He said: With all the discrimination going on in the world, this little boy can make a positive difference.
“Upon coming back, what went through your mind?” the reporter is asking. “Did you have thoughts in your head like, ‘Oh, God, there may be protesters?’ ”
“Why would people protest me?” Ahmed says.
“Well, I’m just asking. So you came in and you’re like, ‘I’m a rock star!’ ”
“I came in — I was just — heading home, because I was tired.”
Ahmed walks in the house that evening to find his uncle, dad and Bond in front of the TV, searching for his name again.
“We want to watch you on the Dallas Morning News,” his dad says. Ahmed had a Facebook Live interview with the newspaper after talking to Fox 4, and they’re trying to find it on YouTube.
“It’s on Facebook,” Ahmed says, raising his voice over the clang of dishes being washed by his aunts in the kitchen. His mom and four of his siblings haven’t yet come from Qatar, so Ahmed, his brother and his father are staying with the cousins who now live in their old house. They push the remote into Ahmed’s hand.
Searching for his name is a daily ritual. The family is its own public relations firm, founded Sept. 14, 2015, as they brought Ahmed home from the police station.
Mohamed was ranting about how only God will judge his son. Ahmed was still hearing the “Ooooooh” sound the other students made as he was led out of class. The police were going to charge him with possession of a hoax bomb.
His parents had a choice: deal with this quietly, or tell someone. Their son had been placed in handcuffs and interrogated, in a town known for its resentment of Muslims. So they called the media, and soon Ahmed was trending on Twitter, and everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to President Obama was sharing messages of support.
Two days after he was arrested, the charges were dropped.
“This is what happens when we (IPD) screw something up,” one Irving Police Department detective wrote in an email later uncovered as part of a public records request from Vice. “That thing didn’t even look like a bomb.”
And so came the next choice: Let this all die down, or seize the platform they’d been given and use it.
So they put Ahmed on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC and “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.” He told reporters how kids in school called him ISIS Boy. Sympathetic crowdfunders raised $18,000 for his education. He visited the White House, the Google Science Fair and the president of his home country of Sudan (a wanted war criminal, but Mohamed said it would be rude not to accept the invitation).
“It’s not on here,” Ahmed is saying, trying to find the video for his dad. “It’s on Facebook. It’s not on YouTube.” His 8-year-old cousin Dooly is hanging on his legs.
“Ahmed, hold me!” Dooly whines.
“Ahmed, go to the Dallas Morning News,” Bond says.
Soon an argument has broken out: They’ve learned that Fox 4, the channel that interviewed Ahmed that morning, had conservative commentator Ben Ferguson on the 10 p.m. news to say that the Mohameds plotted Ahmed’s arrest and are obsessed with being famous.
“They’ve never been fair about Ahmed,” Bond growls at Mohamed. “If I had known you were going to invite them, I would have told you! I would have told you to work with Channel 8!”
“They’re going to talk no matter what we do!” Mohamed snaps back.
In his eyes, the more Ahmed is seen, the better. It’s good for the family, he says. Twice in his life he has run for president of Sudan. He plans to run again in 2020. The more people who know him, the better his chances.
Ahmed slinks away to the corner of the room and gets on his phone.
Does he want to do all these interviews?
“For the most part, yes, and sometimes no. If I wouldn’t get tired, I would do more interviews so I would have more influence.”
His dad tells him that this is God opening doors for him. Something bad happened, but God turned it to make it good. God chose him for this, so he can make the world a better place.
Only now, he feels safer on the other side of the world. As trolls tried to pick apart his story, someone posted the Mohameds’ home address on Twitter.
Many American schools contacted them, but Mohamed says they would only take Ahmed and not his siblings. Qatar Foundation, the government-sponsored organization in what is known as the country’s elite “Education City,” offered to take them all and pay for his older sisters’ college.
In Qatar, his parents don’t work. Ahmed goes to school at 7 a.m., comes home to the four-bedroom townhouse where their family of eight lives, and gets on his laptop.
“Not many kids play outside. I never really do anything,” he says. “I just watch stuff online and I get bored. Sometimes I just go outside and stare at the sun, and then go back inside.”
The Internet is his refuge — and his attacker. He reads every story and long, rambling conspiracy theory about him. Countless blogs and videos have been dedicated to proving Ahmed’s clock was just a RadioShack clock he put in a new box. (It was partially made of RadioShack parts, but the design was all his own, he says.) Others insist that this was all a stunt masterminded by Mohamed to get attention. (“He can’t plan the reaction. And why would he want me to get arrested?” Ahmed says.) Still more have proclaimed that the Mohameds are terrorist sympathizers because they once owned a company called Twin Towers Transportation. (They did own a company by that name, because their offices were housed in a Dallas office building called the Twin Towers.)
Ahmed would like to respond, but he never does because then he will have allowed himself to be angry. In Islam, Ahmed says, you are most vulnerable to the Devil when you are angry.
Instead he tweets only positive messages to his 97,000 followers. Like when he announced “Just Arrived in Dallas!” with a heart emoji and “It feels good to be back!”
plz go back to Qatar. You’re not welcome here.
Go back with your terrorist dad
“They think that all Muslims are terrorist people who kill for their religion,” Ahmed says.
A mosquito lands on the floor in front of him and he sets down his phone.
“I can catch a mosquito,” he tells his cousin Dooly. He lunges. It flies away. He sits back down, waiting until it zooms around again.
#BinLaden Reincarnated ANYONE?
The mosquito lands, and he nabs it. Instead of killing it, he picks off its wings.
“Ohhhhh,” his cousin says in awe.
“Mosquitoes are bad. They kill a lot of people.”
Ahmed pauses, smirking.
“That’s wrong. I shouldn’t generalize mosquitoes.”
Some days, Ahmed lets himself imagine what life would be like if none of this had happened. Amy Schumer wouldn’t follow him on Twitter. He wouldn’t know what it feels like to shake Obama’s hand.
But he wouldn’t be scared when he sees police cars. Maybe he would have made new friends in high school. By now he could have invented something new — not just a clock that only took him a few minutes to put together from parts in his family’s garage, which was full of ’90s-era electronics from when his uncle ran a chain called Beeper Warehouse.
His middle school tutors say shy Ahmed would always perk up when talking about his latest creation: a DVD player, a remote, things that lit and beeped and buzzed. Ahmed would charge his older sisters’ friends $10 to fix their cracked phone screens, then use the money to buy the parts he was missing for his next gadget.
The family moved back and forth between Texas and Sudan, where Ahmed was born. In Irving, Mohamed owned a taxi company and served as religious leader for a small group of Sufi Muslims. Sufism is a mystical interpretation of Islam centered in rituals such as the prayer chants Mohamed writes himself. Whenever there’s a reporter around, he insists on explaining passages of the Koran: “When you kill one person, it is as if you are killing all mankind.”
When Ahmed was 9, Mohamed decided to run for president of Sudan. The current president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir — whom they would later visit after Ahmed became famous — had just been indicted by the International Criminal Court for directing genocide in Darfur. Without him in power, Mohamed argued, the United States might lift its sanctions on Sudan, and the country could prosper.
He never made the ballot. But the next year, in 2011, he made international headlines. Inflammatory Florida pastor Terry Jones held a “trial of the Koran.” Mohamed, who saw the trial as a chance to spread his message — and take his kids to Disney World — showed up to defend the Koran. International outrage over the event, which ended in the burning of the holy book, led to rioting in Afghanistan. At least 20 people were reportedly killed, including seven U.N. employees.
“I did what I think is right,” Mohamed says.
While he was trying to make a name for himself, his American home town was rapidly changing. Irving was once a white-flight suburb best known for housing the Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium. By the time Ahmed entered middle school, the Cowboys had moved to Arlington and the Mohameds’ Zip code was deemed the most diverse area in the country. Only 9 percent of the students in Ahmed’s school district are white. (However, there’s only one nonwhite person on the Irving City Council.)
The neighborhood surrounding the Islamic Center of Irving, which serves about 10,000 area Muslims, began to flourish with condos and mansions built by those who wanted to live close to the mosque. Rumors spread that the neighborhood was a “no-go zone,” an area only Muslims could enter, and that the mosque wasimposing sharia law in the city. The rumors were false.
Meanwhile, Ahmed was preparing to start high school. He kept the same Adidas backpack he’d had since sixth grade. He planned out his outfits, one for each day of the week. He would wear his NASA T-shirt every Monday.
On Friday of his third week of school, the architecture teacher was about to throw away some dead batteries. Ahmed, always the hoarder of scrap materials, asked whether he could have them. Later in his English class, he taped the batteries together to make a sword. He slid the creation up his long-sleeved shirt, walked up to his teacher’s desk and slid the sword out of his arm, “like Iron Man,” he says. She laughed.
“That’s not the only thing I can make,” he told her. He promised to bring her something else on Monday.
Sunday night, he made his clock. It had a motherboard, an LCD screen, a 9-volt battery, an alarm. All the pieces fit into a pencil case from Target adorned with a tiger hologram.
In English class, he plugged it in to show a girl in the corner of the classroom. When the alarm on it vibrated loudly, he stuffed it back in his backpack.
He always thinks: What if he had just left it in the bag? And left class without showing the teacher anything?
But he took it up to her desk, eager to show his creation as he had promised.
“That looks like a bomb,” she said.
Here is what Ahmed’s school now has to say about what happened: “At no point did we think it was actually an explosive device. It looked suspicious and was presented in a way that the teacher took the appropriate actions, and we support the teacher.”
Although the Irving police dropped the charges against Ahmed, stating that “the student apparently did not intend to cause alarm bringing the device to school,” Ahmed was suspended for three days.
The Justice Department is now investigating the incident. Rather than release the letter of inquiry from the agency, which states the reason for the investigation to the public, the district is suing the Texas attorney general’s office.
“Irving ISD has argued that the information is confidential because it reasonably anticipates litigation regarding this matter,” the district’s spokeswoman said.
Ahmed’s father is expected to file suit against the school district this week. In November, the family asked for formal apologies — from the district, the police chief and the mayor — and $15 million in damages for alleged violations of federal and state law, arguing that the teenager’s arrest violated his civil rights. Citing a potential lawsuit, city officials declined to comment on Ahmed’s arrest.
Ahmed’s parents are adamant that their children have been discriminated against even before Ahmed was arrested.
When their daughter Eyman was in eighth grade, another student reported that Eyman said she wanted to blow up the school. Eyman says she never said anything like that, but she was suspended for three days anyway.
In middle school, Ahmed was suspended multiple times for getting in fights. His tutors remember the conflicts stemming from Ahmed’s small size; Ahmed and his family claim he was only defending himself against students who picked on him because of his religion and race.
“Our employees work with students from different cultural backgrounds,” the district said in response to these claims. “Our policies and training stress making sure that all students enrolled at Irving ISD feel respected and safe.”
Ahmed’s face is expressionless as he stares at his father’s phone. Mohamed is showing him another news video he found online. They’re at a gas station on their way home from Dallas, where they spent the afternoon of Ahmed’s second day home in the office of their lawyer.
“Since he was arrested, he has been in high demand and he’s got some events with tech companies lined up,” the news announcer says. “Sounds like life isn’t so bad for Ahmed.”
Later, they’ll stop at a sculpture of galloping horses where Ahmed used to play as a child. Tourists will recognize him from a distance, yelling “Clockmed! Clockmed!”
“Next year,” the video says, “he’ll be 15, and planning to sue the Irving school district and the city, all over a clock that gave him 15 minutes of fame.”
The screen goes black.
“Fifteen minutes of fame?” Mohamed repeats.
“That’s all you heard?” Ahmed retorts.
“Maybe 15 million, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Ahmed looks at his father.
“I’m just joking with you,” Mohamed says.
“Everyone gets 15 minutes of fame who gets covered,” Ahmed says. “But it’s always your choice to extend it.”
“You know, I am a Sufi. I don’t worry about the money,” Mohamed replies.
“I’m not worried about the money,” Ahmed says.
“But it will help, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Ahmed says, “Money will help you, temporarily.”
His dad’s phone rings, and Ahmed gets back on Twitter, thumbing through the messages in his notifications.
should have never let those terrorists back in the US.
That Little Bastard Needs to Leave American Soil.
There’s one with a picture of a plastic bag.
since you left there’s a new invention for breathing under water put this on your head & jump in