Updated: Mar 30
"Actions are but by intention, and every man shall have but that which he intended." Prophet Muhammed PBUH
Omar & Hana have taken the Muslim world by storm MashaAllah, becoming a household name for Muslim families regarding Islamic cartoons, but have you ever wondered who was behind it, who developed it? Read on to learn more.
The story began when Sinan Ismail graduated from the University of Science in Malaysia. His field was Mathematics, but his passion had always been towards 3D. After graduating, he decided to pursue his passion, so he practically taught himself and worked with three different companies in the 3D Industry to develop the necessary knowledge and experience. Sinan established his own company with his wife and his friend back in 2008, and they called it Digital Durian. Incidentally, Durian is a famous and popular tropical fruit in Southeast Asia. It was a fruit of perfectly unique character and fondly regarded as the "King of Fruits," so naming their company Digital Durian was branding themselves as the "King of Digital."
The dream was to create cartoons and animation, but animation was costly and was practically impossible for a new start-up. Hence, Digital Durian's initial services were limited primarily to B2B multimedia and servicing jobs. Things didn't go very well in this sector, so in 2010 they diverted to a B2C model and focused on servicing the wedding industry. In 2012, they won the MDEC contest and got funding from the Malaysian government to work on animation and prepare a trailer to pitch to broadcasters. Their first animation was Didi & Friends, but the cute science explorers didn't quite make it, and rejection was the order of the day.
When Sinan's son was a one-year-old, an attempt to entertain him served as the precursor to launching Didi & Friends as nursery rhyme superstars. Didi & Friends launched on YouTube in 2014, and it was a massive hit in Malaysia and Indonesia. It was dubbed into seven languages that translated into 5 billion views and 7 million subscribers on YouTube.
Then, they developed their second cartoon animation in 2017 called Omar & Hana. This specifically targeted Muslim children to teach them good Islamic values and virtues. It has 3 billion views and 7 million subscribers as well. It has aired in 25 countries and is dubbed in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Malay.
Born to parents who were both lecturers and graduates from Azhar University, loving to make people happy and being a parent himself determined Sinan's path from early on as children's entertainment. He aimed to create something that would impact, and the easiest way to make a difference was through blending education and entertainment.
Sinan always wanted to create Islamic cartoon content with his father but could not realize that dream since his father returned to his Creator in 2014. This unrealized dream of working with his father served as additional motivation to use the platform at his disposal to spread good messages about Islam.
Sharing the beauty of Islam at an early age was meant to give children strong foundations who would insha'Allah grow up to be better Muslims in the future. In other words, it was a form of Dawah, and Sinan noticed there were a lot of blessings and barakah from doing the Islamic cartoons. So in 2021, when his partner wanted to part ways, it was evident that Sinan would stick with the Islamic pathway and choose Omar & Hana.
Kids may love Omar & Hana, but they may also want to watch other cartoons. Still, not all cartoons on YouTube are suitable or align with Muslim values. Therefore, in August 2021, the vision became bigger. The previous business model wouldn't go in tandem with the big goals, so to create more impact necessitated changing the model to a more sustainable model. So, the mission was to be the Disney and Netflix for Muslim Children, a platform, an ecosystem that would accompany children from 1 - 12 years old and allow Muslim content creators not to struggle the way he did. Durioo will offer more variety for children and peace of mind for parents who know that their children will not see the wrong kind of content. Durioo was born to have more significant potential and an enormous impact not just for the Dunya but was also a project that will serve in the Akhira insha'Allah.
Why name it Durioo, you may ask? A global platform necessitates a name that many can relate to. Durioo is the scientific name for the fruit, Durian. It was catchy and had a sentimental connection to Digital Durian, Sinan's first company. Today, Durioo has two co-founders, Sinan and his wife. She focuses on the business's operations, people, and experiences, and Sinan focuses more on the commercial and content elements.
Like any other start-up, Sinan's journey was very challenging, especially in the earlier days. He attests that when he started, his niyah just wasn't right. It was solely about making more money and serving his purposes, but understanding that entrepreneurship is not about yourself; instead, it focuses on creating value for other people was quite a defining moment in his journey that led to a 180-degree change. Talking to your users and understanding what your customers need is vital for the success of any company. Persistence, not taking "no" for an answer, striving, and pushing forward resonates with many entrepreneurs.
Gearing the Niyah towards helping people solve an unfulfilled need and focusing on Ihsan by putting in the effort to create the best quality content that kids would love, enjoy and learn from has set Durioo apart from other companies that also produce Islamic content. Durioo is a platform, but they also create content, and their past successes are a testament to their knowledge of creating content. Sinan doesn't hesitate to credit his competitive advantage to the fantastic team of 50 individuals that makeup Durioo. The values shared at Durioo revolve around having the right Nia, Du'a, Tawakkul, staying positive no matter what, and finally working hard.
Sinan understands that he has a big responsibility on his shoulder towards the Ummah because the media is a tool. Knowing the "why he does what he does" and the accountability towards Allah SWT keeps him grounded in choosing what content to create and broadcast. Will it benefit the Muslim Ummah? Can we make an impact? These are the questions that serve as his major criterion, a standard that defines all the other steps.
Parents are increasingly worried about children spending time watching cartoons and playing games. Durioo does offer a beneficial, safe, and fun alternative for Muslim children. Still, Sinan also points out the importance of parents monitoring what their kids watch and the amount of time they spend as screen time because, in his words, "at the end of the day, screens can't turn on without parents handing over the remote, the tablet or the phone." Campaigns are in the works to educate parents and even children soon insha'Allah. Experiences beyond the screen have also been planned, like books, plush toys, and products that kids can play with outside.
Partnerships are important when the mission is to reach as many Muslim children in the world. A lot of collaborations will and must happen insha'Allah. Durioo cannot do this alone. Individual Muslims and Muslim companies have to join hands to address this big issue and Amana. So far, there are three core productions with two animation companies in Malaysia. One is a social impact company and is doing a cartoon that raises awareness about the environment. Moreover, Durioo collaborates with kindergartens in Malaysia and is open to doing more globally, insha'Allah. Fatima and Maryam Masood in the USA have also signed a deal to do content expected to roll out in the next 2 to 3 months insha'Allah.
Sinan's vision for the future is to have more content on the platform and insha'Allah, hopefully reaching as many Muslim children out there one way or another through their platform, cartoons, merchandise, and even through sedaqa as well. They want to create an impact, and Durioo and Durioo+ are starting points.
So, the obvious question is, how can you and I be part of this social change. Subscribe if possible. If you do subscribe, tell your neighbors, friends, and family so that all can benefit from it. If you are aware of other Muslim producers or other possible collaborations, please come forward and share their email or social media handles to email@example.com.
Sinan is currently part of the YCombinator, the best Start-Up Accelerator in the world, representing us all and the future Muslim generation. It is a happy feeling to know that there are people out there who care and work to make a difference for our Ummah.
While working on this article, I could pinpoint Sinan's humbleness when he avoided rating his success but instead chose to say Alhamdulillah. Sinan truly embodies the words, "I love to make people happy... And I'm blessed to be able to do that." He wears a smile or sends you a smiley face all the time, reinforcing what the Prophet PBUH taught us about Smiling. We wish him, his wife and all his team members the very best in their future endeavors insha'Allah. May Allah SWT bless all their efforts, and we conclude by saying in this edition of "battuta" spotlight, Durioo stole our hearts. :)