It was a combination of creativity and paternal instinct that pushed UAE resident Abdellah Zejli to create Muslim Blocks. Made of interlocking bricks, the miniature structures resemble important Islamic buildings that the Moroccan national hopes “can help Muslim families bond over meaningful toys”.
The company has two structures available at the moment: the Kaaba (Dh132), the holiest site in Islam, which is in Makkah; and Masjid Al Nabawi (Dh150), the second-largest mosque in the world, which is in Madinah.
While the toys are similar to Lego, the toymaker in Dubai is not affiliated with the Danish company. His inspiration, he says, stems from the observation that major toy stores do not stock options that are both fun and educational from an Islamic standpoint.
However, Zejli adds non-Muslims have also expressed an interest in the sets, which he began selling earlier this month. Currently in the design phase is a miniature of Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque, which holds strong historical values for different groups.
“At the end of the day, it's all about making learning fun,” Zejli says. The educational aspect is immediately apparent. Each set comes with a detailed instruction manual that not only shows children how to build the structures, but also contains facts and backstories about each.
The Kaaba miniature, for example, comes with more than 300 pieces of interlocking blocks. It features the building's most prominent parts, such as the Maqam Ibrahim, the Black Stone and the Kiswah, or great cloth. While the manual explains each part, Zejli also recommends parents play with their children so as to constructively guide them through the construction process.
“Muslim Blocks is also about spending quality time with children. These days, everyone is on their phone or watching television, so this allows a moment for parents and children to have some fun together,” he says.
The Masjid Al Nabawi set, too, comprises more than 300 bricks, and offers more detail about the mosque's varying features, from the domes and courtyard umbrellas to the protruding minaret.
Zejli, who spent 16 years in Canada and has three children, draws heavily from his own experience as a father. “Whatever you give your children can leave an imprint in their heads and affect their future,” he says. “Muslim Blocks can be one of those toys parents can use to introduce children to their religion, but in a more fun way.”
Following the brand's launch on July 1, Zejli says he received more than 1,000 orders in one week.
Aside from direct consumers, shops have also reached out to Zejli to stock them. Interest has even percolated to Muslim communities outside the UAE, he says, with orders coming in from the UK, Canada and Australia.
As for what's next in store for the toymaker, Zejli says the Al Aqsa Mosque set will launch by the end of next month, followed by miniatures of either Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi or the newer Sharjah Mosque.
“It takes a few months to design each set because we want to pay close attention to the details. You can't just recreate these Islamic buildings without the education aspect,” he says.
Aside from his poignant cause of promoting Islamic education, $5 from each sale is assigned to non-profit organisations.