Subhi Alshaik is the founder of One4Kids , and the creator of the loveable purple bear known to Muslim children around the world, Zaky. We caught up with Subhi to ask him what his inspirations in starting One4Kids were, how he juggles work and family, what his plans for Zaky are, and what new and exciting projects he is working on!
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a simple, honest straight forward person. I enjoy sport, the beach, nature, traveling and cooking original meals. I am really into nutrition and try to only eat organic food and stay away from processed foods and sugar which I believe they are causing so much illness and disease. I am always trying to better myself as a Muslim. I basically live my life for the akhira. I have no interest in this world and so I do as much good as possible in hope of gaining the Mercy of Allah by obeying Him and following the example of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW). I spend a lot of time in the masjid since this is the only place I can find genuine and beautiful people. Unfortunately, I have come across the worst of people in the last 15 years of Dawah work and so the masjid gives me the peace I need.
I was in the music industry for about 5 years and had 2 songs played on Australia’s top radio station. We performed at many venues and were ready for a record deal. I later made a connection with Yusuf Islam through my uncle in London, I was hoping to speak to him about our record deal. Instead, I was given great advice, he told me he was out of the music industry because of his religion. While overseas I started reading the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and just fell in love with his character. I was amazed that the world didn’t know about him other than the lies through the media. This was the beginning of my journey back to Islam. Upon returning to Sydney, I was chosen to be part of a new boy band that was managed by a group who would later manage the Backstreet Boys. I agreed to it and thought that after I become famous I will leave and then go do some dawah work with Yusuf Islam, however, the more I kept reading the biography of Muhammad (SAW) the more I was been pulled away from the music industry. I finally decided to leave the group and began seeking knowledge. Not long after that, I established One Islam Productions in hope of giving Dawah through media. One of my main goals was to unite the Muslims but this didn’t seem to work. There were so many groups and I was tossed around like a volleyball. I found that as Muslims we were lacking some of the principles taught by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
For readers who don’t know Zaky, please tell us a bit about this character.
Zaky, the purple/blue bear was born in the year 2005. Zaky is a cartoon character that loves teaching children about Allah, the Prophet (SAW) and encouraging good character and manners.
I figured the only way to instill good character in the Muslims was to start with the children at a young age. At that time, there were almost no halal programs for children to watch. There was not a single Muslim cartoon character and so I felt the need to do something.
Zaky performs live shows at various festival, events and schools and visits sick children in hospitals. He has travelled to the USA, UK, Malaysia, South Africa and Canada. One 4 Kids have produced 15 Zaky animation films, 100’s of eductional videos, over 20 Apps, lots of merchandise and over 20 songs. Zaky has a youtube channel with nearly 130,000 subscribers and close to 100 Million views. His facebooks page has 415,000 likes. (as of 2016).
What inspired you to create ‘Zaky’ and One 4 Kids TV?
There were a number of factors that inspired me. Having children was one of them and the other was having the opportunity to bring some change to the Ummah by educating children from a young age to be the best Muslims they can be. Many people do not know this but we have been struggling financially for over 10 years now. The animation field is very expensive and we have had to borrow a lot of money to make most of our films. We tried raising funds by selling DVDs and products however due to piracy and difficulty getting payments from bookstores, this didn’t work. We have had some generous sponsors over the years but still it was not enough because our aim was to produce films to the standards of Disney, Marvel and Pixar but we kept falling short. We started noticing that media companies were all setting up subscription models, so we decided to set up One 4 Kids TV. We believed that if we could get thousands of Muslim subscribing, then we would have the regular funds needed to produce new films and pay off our debts, Inshallah. We added all our films and also films by other producers such as Little Explorers and Baba Ali. We also added downloadable activities and colouring pages to make it more exciting for the children. Unfortunately, so far we have not had enough Muslims subscribe yet, but we are working on it. It seems they want us to produce more content so they can subscribe and we need them to subscribe so we can produce more content. We are kind of stuck.
What challenges have you encountered along the way?
As mentioned our main struggle has always been getting funds. Many people have this idea that I’m rich and have a large production company, however, this is not the case. Many don’t realise that I have had to make a lot of sacrifices in the last 10 years just to produce low budget animations. My aim now, which was always my intention, is to produce Disney/Pixar like films, Inshallah. Our children will always find their films more attractive and for us to compete with Disney, Pixar and the like, we need a lot more funding to produce to that quality. I have contemplated closing down so many times and getting a regular job due to the financial stress, however when I see the many positive comments we receive every week from parents and children I get motivated to keep pushing on and somehow we are still here Alhumdulilah. We are now doing stronger marketing in the hope of reaching the 10,000+ subscribers we need to produce regular content for the channel Inshallah.
What is the favourite project you’ve worked on thus far?
My favourite film is Zaky’s Adventures because the quality of animation is so far our best. We spent over $250,000 using former Disney animators to produce this film.
My favourite film in terms of content would be Let’s Learn Quran with Zaky & Friends. I think this film is educational but also entertaining. I want our new films to be more entertaining without being too preachy. I would also like to work with professionals on new films. I am sure people are sick of only seeing my name in the credits… I am. I currently write, produce, direct, edit, write the songs, record most of the voices for the characters and do all the design work for One 4 Kids , which is the reason the work can continue. My dream is to work on a big budget movie with professionals in the field. I have no qualifications in movie making, songwriting or producing, I just taught myself and found it to be easy. I believe talent comes from passion and commitment and not degrees and diplomas.
What are you currently working on?
We have so many projects in the pipeline that need funds to complete. We have a new series called Barakah Hills which we are about to seek crowd funding for. This series is similar in concept to Peppa Pig. A lot of the pre-production is done for this film and just needs the funds for the animation of the series.
– Jannah’s Way is a series designed for young girls.
– Zaky’s Adventures part 2 is an amazing movie that is ready for animation. This will be our first full-length movie that we hope to release in the cinemas worldwide for the Muslims inshallah.
– Zaky’s Learning Club is a show similar to Sesame Street and playschool that we have been slowly developing over the last year.
– My greatest project will be a movie about the life of Muhammad (SAW). I will only produce this movie with a high budget inshallah as it deserves to be.
How do you juggle all the work you do alongside family commitments?
My two sons aged 12 and 14 are getting more involved in One 4 Kids and so we are together a lot. I have been home schooling them for a year now and it has worked out great Alhumdulilah. My two younger daughters aged 6 and 8 have worked with me on some small projects and inshallah as they get older I hope they will also join the One 4 Kids team. They accompany me to events and we have a great time. I love to show them how beautiful and rewarding Dawah work is when they see so many children standing in line waiting to meet Zaky. The good thing about my work is that I can take it anywhere anytime, so if my children want to go somewhere then will stop everything, jump in the car and off we go. I can work early mornings or late nights to make up the time if need be Alhumdulilah.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your kids?
We spend a lot of time on the beach, riding bikes, fishing, cooking, playing in the park and just hanging out together. I love my children so much and enjoy spending as much time as possible with them doing whatever they want to. I would love to one day be able to travel with them and show them the world, I would also like to take them to Makkah and Madinah, Inshallah.
What do you hope the future will hold for your kids and Muslim kids everywhere?
I really hope all children will realise that a major change is needed for the world to become a better place and that they have the ability to change it. We need to instill in them the beautiful character and manners of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and do a lot of good in this world. This is the main reason he was sent… to perfect manners and good character. I believe the world is an amazing creation of Allah however it has become ugly because the worst of people are running it. The only ones who will fix the future are the children. Inshallah through our work, One 4 Kids can help with this much-needed change.
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