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Ahmed Mohamed's father had his own nasty run-in with Islamophobia

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Texas boy arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, is one vivid example of overt Islamophobia in America.

That's a sentiment that Mohamed's own family has tried to fight against. His father, Mohamed ElHassan Mohamed, is a fascinating figure in his own right. He's a Sudanese immigrant who has twice declared himself a presidential candidate in Sudan. When Florida pastor Terry Jones put the Quran on trial and later burned it in 2012, Mohamed was the Muslim holy book's defense attorney,

Mohamed has run for president of Sudan twice

Formerly a customs worker at the Khartoum International Airport, Mohamed moved to the US from Sudan in the 1980s and started out selling candy, hot dogs, and newspapers in New York, according to a profile in the North Dallas Gazette in February. He later moved to Dallas, where he delivered pizza, drove taxis, and eventually started a cab company, Jet Taxi.

In 2010, he ran for president in Sudan for the National Reform Party and created a campaign website, which described him this way:

ElHassan is no stranger to adversity and experienced hardship firsthand, and during his lifetime has cultivated a deep sense of humanitarianism, tolerance and patience… Mohammed became proficient in all the religious sciences and has become an aficionado of prose and poetry. He attended many public events from his early age and unintentionally upstaged other expert orators in religious and political debates and remains unequalled. He is a passionate and sometimes amusing speaker of wisdom, logic and the realities of modern-day life. He possesses a deep insight into the causes of things and is dedicated to his principles.

Neither he nor his party actually appeared on the ballot. But Mohamed ran again in 2015, promising to negotiate lifting the sanctions on Sudan, ratify human rights treaties, and repeal laws against converting from Islam. (The Sudan Tribune, based in Paris, ran a story on his platform.)

Mohamed also defended the Quran when pastor Terry Jones tried to burn it

In 2012, Florida pastor Terry Jones said he was putting the Quran on trial. Jones had threatened to burn the Quran before, around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, before eventually being talked out of it by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

This time, he wanted to stage a trial at his Florida church, and he needed a defense attorney. Mohamed volunteered: "[The church] put an ad on their channel: 'Whoever feels in himself he has the power to defend Quran is welcome,'" he told the Dallas Observer.

The trial ended with Jones declaring the Quran guilty of "crimes against humanity" and setting it on fire. Protests and riots in Afghanistan in response to the burning left seven people dead.

Mohamed, who leads a small congregation of Sufi Muslims, a mystical sect of Islam that is generally more liberal, told the Dallas Observer that he was grateful to have a chance to defend Islam, including his own interpretation of the Quran. He didn't realize the church would actually burn the book, although Jones had threatened to do so before. (He also wanted an excuse to take his family to nearby Disney World, he told the Washington Post.)

But he was undaunted by the experience and looked for a Texas church that would be willing to host his appeal of the verdict.

Watch: The police's explanation for arresting Ahmed Mohamed

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