- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

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.

That is exactly why many Muslim Americans prefer Razanne, with her long-sleeved dresses, head scarf and, by her creator Ammar Saadeh’s own acknowledgement, a not-so-buxom bust line.

For Mr. Saadeh, the doll fills a marketing void and also offers Muslim girls someone to whom they can relate.

“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 Mr. 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 several 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 with blond hair, 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 perhaps even Astronaut Razanne. The Muslim Girl Scout Razanne comes complete with a cassette recording of the Muslim Scouts’ oath.

What sets Razanne apart from her few competitors is that she “holds a global appeal for Muslim girls,” Mr. 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 Mrs. 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 Mr. Saadeh, adding that countering such stereotypes was one of his main aims in developing Razanne.

Mattel didn’t respond to repeated calls seeking comment.

Razanne is not the Islamic world’s first attempt to thwart the global appeal of Barbie. 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 the doll never made it to store shelves. Sara and Dara — Iran’s version of Barbie and her beau, Ken — were introduced a couple of years ago. The two were offshoots of a children’s cartoon in Iran.

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

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

The doll is sold throughout the United States, Canada, Singapore and Germany. Mr. 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.

Saudi Arabia’s religious police have declared Barbie dolls a threat to morality, complaining that the revealing clothes are offensive to Islam.

Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries likely would be attracted to Praying Razanne, who comes complete with a long hijab and modest prayer gown.

Lest people think that she is all about praying, there is In-Out Razanne, whose wardrobe also includes a short, flowery dress she can wear inside the home, in view only of men in her family.

“Razanne represents to Muslim girls that they have options, goals and dreams and the ability to realize them,” said Mrs. Debryn.

Her daughter, Jenna, who recently donned the veil after much soul-searching, said Razanne makes her “feel more comfortable about being a Muslim girl.”

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