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Choosing a religious leader on reality TV

Bright studio spotlights illuminated the faces of four young men who awaited their fate. Cameramen stood ready to capture the moment....

Bright studio spotlights illuminated the faces of four young men who awaited their fate. Cameramen stood ready to capture the moment. The chief judge broke the suspense. Two had been eliminated. The other were a step closer to their dream. All four took turns hugging each other.

The competition is called Imam Muda,or Young Leader — a Malaysian venture into religious-themed reality TV.

Before each episode,the contestants have gathered to recite a prayer,while the challenges they are judged on have included washing corpses for burial and ensuring that animals are slaughtered according to Islamic principles.

The prize: Cash and a new car. But the winner will also be offered a job as an imam,a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia and an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to Mecca.

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The show,which debuted in May with 10 contestants — whittled down from more than a thousand applicants — has built an impressive following among young Malaysians. It is the most-watched show ever on Astro Oasis,a Muslim lifestyle channel,and its Facebook page has more than 50,000 fans.

Viewership is expected to soar on Friday,when the winner will be announced. During the finale,the finalists will be required to debate religious and news topics,and recite passages from the Quran.

Some political commentators say the show’s popularity reflects the increasing Islamisation of this Muslim-majority nation of 28 million. The programme’s creators say they are trying to provide an entertaining way of making Islam more relevant to the lives of the young.

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Izelan Basar,the show’s creator and Astro Oasis’s manager,said his aim was to find a way to make Islam more appealing to young people.

“In every religion,the toughest challenge is to attract the youth,” he said. “They said,‘We want someone who can talk on the same wavelength,who can be one of us,an imam who can play football,can talk about the World Cup,can talk about the environment and UFO’s,for example’,” Izelan said.

First published on: 30-07-2010 at 12:26:11 am
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