DALLAS » After a nine-month stay in Qatar, Ahmed Mohamed returned to Texas this week with a deeper appreciation for his religion and a thicker skin.
He’s no longer surprised when people recognize him since his arrest at Irving’s MacArthur High School in September, when a homemade clock he brought to school was mistaken for a bomb.
It wasn’t until family members in Africa reached out that he realized his arrest made news not only in Texas, but across the world.
After photos of Ahmed in handcuffs went viral, a national uproar began about the treatment of Muslims in the U.S. and made him think about how he could use the incident to teach others.
“I want to help change Texas for a better state, and I hope that not just for Texas, but the entire world,” Ahmed said this week from Irving, where he’s returned for the summer. “People sometimes don’t want to admit their mistakes, and sometimes the best thing to do is to help them change.”
The amount of support he received through social media surprised him, Ahmed said.
He has received hateful comments as well, but he tries not to let negativity faze him. Online threats have made him nervous, and the rest of his family tries to stay out of the spotlight, he said.
While he’s in the U.S., he plans to take up invitations to visit well-known companies that followed in the wake of his arrest, even if he gets some negative attention along the way.
He will get a chance to thank some social media giants in person later this summer when he visits Facebook and Twitter headquarters. He has an offer for an internship at Twitter.
He said the first question he plans to ask is, “How did you start?”
“Seeing where they’re at now, they inspire me a lot because they always show how a small weekend project can turn into something big,” Ahmed said.
These days, Ahmed said, if he sees a negative comment on social media, he brushes it off.
“It’s very difficult for me to read it, so I just ignore it and I just walk past it,” Ahmed said. “Sometimes it gets to me, but I just choose to not let it get to me.”
Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, said he was happy to see a wide spectrum of support with the hashtag IStandWithAhmed. He said the negativity is just one of life’s tests for his son.
“You can’t get honey without the sting of the bee,” Mohamed said. “That is why God changed everything to tell him that the road is open for you, so show us your invention. Show us because we know what you are going through.”
If he could change anything, Ahmed would have taken his clock to the White House when he met President Barack Obama in October, he said.
“It was amazing, and when I met him, he was a very kind guy,” Ahmed said. “It will be sad not to see him in office in a few months.”
Ahmed knows what he wants to accomplish next: finish school in Qatar, attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and double-major in physics and electrical engineering.
The biggest difference in education between Irving and Qatar is the pace of learning, he said. In Qatar, each topic is covered in six weeks, such as biology first and then chemistry.
Qatar’s education incorporates learning the Quran and the history of Islam, which Ahmed said he enjoyed. He also visited Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in Saudi Arabia with his family.
“I felt good being able to learn my religion because it wasn’t an opportunity I had here in the U.S.,” Ahmed said, citing costs and difficulty finding a private teacher. “It was easier because your religion was basically embedded inside the country.”
He missed family and friends in Texas and also the diversity of America in the people and the landscapes, he said. Ahmed recalled road trips to Florida where he’d see different types of geography, while Qatar is mostly desert.
“America is very diverse, and I see there’s many cultures that are widespread around the nation,” Ahmed said. “Over there it’s a Muslim country, but here it’s more diverse.”
His travels have sparked an interest in helping the world through technology, such as helping people in hard-to-reach places get medicine and electricity.
“There’s a lot of trouble going on around the world right now,” Ahmed said. “They don’t have the same amount of tools that we have, so their life span might be different.”
His next goal is to patent his inventions involving electricity and friction.
“I just want to invent,” Ahmed said. “I want to help the world a lot, and it would be amazing to see my creations in action.”
©2016 The Dallas Morning News