Barbie inspires modest, Muslim alternative

JAKARTA Wed Oct 10, 2007 10:03am EDT

1 of 2. A worker is surrounded by Salma dolls as she dresses one in Jakarta September 25, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Supri

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - There are no hot shorts or crop tops for this Barbie-lookalike, and certainly no boyfriend. An Indonesian has come up with a modest alternative to the popular doll which she hopes will inspire virtue in Muslim girls.

Called Salma, from the Arabic word for peace, the doll comes dressed in a variety of costumes, ranging from the black "abaya" cloak to a loose-fitting white prayer dress.

All Salma's clothes are long-sleeved and down to her ankles and come with matching headscarves that cover her hair.

Salma's creator, businesswoman Sukmawati Suryaman, said she was inspired to create a modestly dressed doll last year after seeing her niece playing with Barbie.

"I remember thinking that I wish we had Muslim dolls like these as we all know that children easily imitate their toys," she told Reuters.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, with 85 percent of the 226 million people Muslim, and most are moderates. Many women dress modestly and cover their hair in accordance with Islamic requirements, making Salma's conservative clothing more familiar to children than the glittering, pop-star inspired outfits donned by dolls such as Barbie and Bratz.

Suryaman, who studied engineering, runs her business from home. She imports the plastic dolls from China and with the help of two neighbors, designs and sews clothing and accessories.

The dolls are then packed into boxes and sold via retailers or the Internet at www.bonekasalma.com for between 60,000 to 80,000 rupiah ($7 to $9).

On the Web site, Salma is called the "Muslim Barbie doll".

Suryaman sells about 200 units a month, with the number usually rising towards the Eid al-Fitr Muslim feast that ends the holy month of Ramadan, a time when families exchange gifts.

She plans to export the doll to neighboring Malaysia and Brunei, which also have large Muslim populations.

"I think she can be a role model, she is an alternative. Barbie wears skimpy cloths while Salma dressed in modest way with headscarf," said Tina, an Indonesian mother who was buying Salma dolls for her daughters.