Play and pray: The Tarbiyyah Project for Kids

Academic and former corporate executive partner to deliver Brunei’s first Islamic based scientific enrichment programme for children

Echoes of laughter could be heard as I walked to the private room in Masjid Mohammad Bolkiah in Kg Serusop. Inside, there were 10 children sitting on the floor, curved towards their teacher, 33-year-old Siti Rafeah Hj Serbini, as she addressed the class.

I was attending one of Tarbiyyah’s school holiday programmes. This particular one was on entrepreneurship – and they were tasked with colouring and drawing Islamic messages onto paper, the designs of which would later be printed onto t-shirts and tote bags to be sold at Bandarku Ceria.

It might be worlds away from from the corporate training rooms Rafeah is used to, but judging from the kid’s enthusiastic responses, the 33-year-old – who left an executive training job at Brunei Shell Petroleum to concentrate on teaching – is a natural.

Several years ago, Rafeah met Dr. Hjh Mona Yati Mohd Kassim, a former Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) lecturer and now an adjunct professor of the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences at Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA).

Dr. Mona (L) and Rafeah (R) have developed the first Islamic scientific-based enrichment programme based on the play and pray approach to be approved and endorsed by the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) and the Ministry of Education.

“She was conducting training in my department then,” Rafeah recalled their first meeting. But it wasn’t until she heard Dr. Mona spoke at an Islamic Governance symposium in UBD that Rafeah became more intrigued in embarking on a career that dealt directly with Islam.

“Hearing her speak about working with a purpose, I realized that it was what I wanted for myself; I wanted to work for a purpose that would bring me closer to Allah.”

Tarbiyyah – which in Arabic means to develop and grow – was then a concept Dr. Mona was trying to develop, borne out of the curiosity from her four children, who were frequently asking her questions relating to God.

“They’d ask: ‘Which one’s stronger: the wind or water?’ ‘Where does Allah exist in worms or flowers?’ They’re very scientifically minded, very inquisitive and very entrepreneurial. But they also have a budding Islamic identity and curiosity about it all, and I needed a way to explain things that would further drive their growth,” said Dr. Mona, who launched the programme under her business and training consultancy muBn Learning and Growth Company (mLGC).

“So I did a bit of digging and Alhamdulillah, the answers could be found in Islamic stories from the Quran itself.”

Taqrbiyyah is set up as a purposeful play concept for children aged three to nine, designed to be an after-school program. Standalone classes cost $25-40, with monthly membership for four sessions between $100 to $120.

Tarbiyyah began its first class in December 2015 – with the eponymously titled Tarbiyyah Project for Kids. At its core is the Asmaul Husna (the 99 names of Allah) – their transliteration, meaning and explanation, which the pair believes will help children understand and get to know God in “deeper, meaningful ways”.

They later added the 1,001 Islamic Inventions Series, focusing on pioneering scientific discoveries during the Islamic Golden Age from the mid 7th century to the 13th century, and also the Green Deen Kidspreneuership – which focuses on doing business in the way of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), based off the Sunnah.

“The children learned about the way the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) conducted his trading, which emphasized on characteristics of successful Muslim entrepreneurs such as having good business ethics and being fair,” added Dr. Mona.

The programmes incorporate arts and crafts, group activities as well as simple experiments to make the classes more impactful for the children.

At the end of the entrepreneurship class, the children were supervised to take their ‘wudhu’ – where one cleanses the body before prayer – and then followed the Imam to perform a mass prayer for Asar. For most parents, it’s seeing their children at such a young age, being able to perform the crucial ritual independently that is one of the classes greatest rewards.

“There is a saying that those who know themselves are those who know their lord,” said Rafeah. “That’s what we want the children to do, we want them to understand and know who Allah is.”

Last year, Rafeah left the corporate world to join the Islamic startup full-time, as they look to approach their milestone of their thousandth student and make ambitious plans of exporting their teaching methods and modules overseas.

“As fantastic as being a trainer was, I realized that the heart was missing the whole time. I am glad that I feel I am filling that gap now by teaching children that Islam is really a beautiful thing that you embrace with your heart and not just with your mind.”

Update: Tarbiyyah will be opening their first Islamic Enrichment Centre in Kg Serusop this month. Head over to or contact +6738978685 to learn more.