Malaysia's religious reality TV
Contestants listen while filming the reality TV show Imam Muda at a mosque
auditorium in Kuala Lumpur
The 10 young men have washed corpses according to Islamic rites, cried while
counseling unmarried pregnant women and joined a police crackdown on teenage
motorcycle racers - all before judges on national TV.
A Malaysian cable station has given a reality show makeover to its Islamic
programming, and it's taking this moderate Muslim-majority country by storm.
The show, called Imam Muda or Young Leader, is halfway through a 10-week run.
With its blend of doctrine and drama, it is a natural fit for Malaysia, a
South-east Asian nation that has tried to defend its Islamic traditions while
also welcoming high-tech industry and Western culture. It's these parallel
strains in society that the program taps so successfully.
The producers say they want to find a leader for these times, a pious but
progressive Muslim who can prove that religion remains relevant to Malaysian
youths despite the influence of Western pop culture.
Even the prizes combine both worlds: An all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to Mecca
and a car.
"This is not like other programs that have no religious values," says the
show's chief judge, Hasan Mahmud Al-Hafiz, a former prayer leader at Malaysia's
"We have no shouting or jumping. We provide spiritual food. We're not looking
for a singer or a fashion model."
In 21st century Malaysia, it's a formula that works. The producers say the show
has become the Islamic-themed channel's most-watched program ever.
Details about the show:
* More than 1,000 men auditioned for the show. They were made to recite
prayers, given tests on Islam and asked questions on current affairs such as
naming world leaders. Background checks were done to ensure none had unsavory
* Most of the contestants, photogenic men between 18 and 27, could pass as
models. In some episodes, they appear in well-tailored suits and ties, albeit
with Muslim caps on top. In others, they don traditional flowing robes, or
simply fashionable slacks and shirts.
* The contestants are sequestered in a mosque hostel with no access to family,
friends or cell phones. They spend much of their time being tutored in Islamic
studies. The cameras start rolling when they're out on assignments.
* For their first major task, the contestants put on face masks and medical
gowns to perform Muslim ablutions on two corpses that had gone unclaimed for
weeks in a morgue. They also buried the bodies, reflecting at the cemetery on
their own mortality.
* In another episode, tears flowed freely among the men as they provided
religious counseling for residents of a women's shelter and a home for
abandoned children. - AP
Published June 27 2010
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