Muslim doll offers alternative to Barbie

Associated Press

LIVONIA, Mich. — At first glance, this new girl on the block doesn’t give Barbie much of a run for her money. After all, Barbie is everything Razanne is not — curvaceous, flashy and loaded with sex appeal.

But that’s exactly why many Muslim Americans prefer Razanne, with her long-sleeved dresses, head scarf and, by her creator Ammar Saadeh’s own admission, a not-so-buxom bustline.

For Saadeh, the doll not only fills a marketing void but also offers Muslim girls someone they can relate to.

“The main message we try to put forward through the doll is that what matters is what’s inside you, not how you look,” said Saadeh, who set up NoorArt Inc. with his wife and a few other investors.

The Livonia-based company, founded about seven years ago, sells the Razanne doll and a number of other toys geared toward Muslim children.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, thin or fat, beautiful or not, the real beauty seen by God and fellow Muslims is what’s in your soul,” he said.

Razanne has the body of a preteen. The doll comes in three types: fair-skinned blonde, olive-skinned with black hair, or black skin and black hair.

Her aspirations are those of a modern Muslim woman. On the drawing board for future dolls are Dr. Razanne and possibly even Astronaut Razanne. There’s also Muslim Girl Scout Razanne, complete with a cassette recording of the Muslim Scout’s oath.

What sets Razanne apart from her few competitors is that she “holds a global appeal for Muslim girls,” Saadeh said. That image encouraged Mimo Debryn, of West Bloomfield Township, to buy the doll for her daughter, Jenna, four years ago.

“Razanne looks like the majority of women around Jenna,” said Debryn. “She loves that doll and always took care of her, giving Razanne a special place in her room, treating her with respect.

“Jenna never tried to take Razanne’s hijab (head scarf) off, though Barbie was usually stripped naked,” she said as her daughter, 11, curled up on the couch and smiled.

In the United States, Mattel, which makes Barbie, markets a Moroccan Barbie and sells a collector’s doll named Leyla. Leyla’s elaborate costume and tale of being taken as a slave in the court of a Turkish sultan are intended to convey the tribulations of one Muslim girl in the 1720s.

“It’s no surprise that they’d try to portray a Middle Eastern Barbie either as a belly dancer or a concubine,” said Saadeh, adding that countering such stereotypes was one of his main aims in developing Razanne.

Mattel didn’t respond to repeated calls seeking comment.

Laila, the Arab League’s answer to Barbie, offered girls of the league’s 22-member states a culturally acceptable alternative to Barbie’s flashy lifestyle. But she never made it to store shelves. Sara and Dara were launched a couple of years ago — Iran’s version of Barbie and her beau, Ken. The two were offshoots of a children’s cartoon in Iran.

But Saadeh said those dolls are more “cultural and don’t have mass appeal in the Middle East.”

Saadeh hopes to capture that market. Razanne will soon be marketed in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and make greater inroads in southeast Asia.

The doll is sold throughout the United States, Canada, Singapore and Germany. Saadeh would not reveal the doll’s sales figures, but he said retail sales over the company’s Web site account for a majority of the almost 30,000 dolls sold per year.

Prices range from $9.99 for a single doll to $24.99 for a set like Teacher Razanne that includes a briefcase and other accessories.