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Tuesday, Jul 22 , 2014 ( Ramadan, 1435)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Malaysia’s Idols… “Young Imams”

OnIslam & News Agencies
Malaysia
Ten contestants, aged between 18 and 27, compete to win the title Malaysia's "Young Imam".

KUALA LUMPUR -- A smash-hit TV talent show is stealing the limelight and drawing adoring fans in Malaysia. But instead of singing or dancing, the show stars are competing for the title of “Young Imam”, and they are already becoming role models in the Asian Muslim country.

The show is a "landmark program with a refreshing approach to Islam", media commentator Azman Ujang, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, July 4.

The prime-time show "Young Imam" is following the formula made popular through shows such as "American Idol" with ten young men vying for the title.

Ten contestants, who are aged between 18 and 27, compete in reciting verses from Islam's Noble book, the Qur’an.

They also learn washing corpses in preparation for Muslim burial and trying to council young Malaysians woo away from illicit sex and drugs.

"An imam is usually linked with someone old. But here we have young personalities,” says Azman.

“It gives a vibrant look to Islam at a time when the community is facing so many social ills."

The contestants are not all coming from religious background, as they include a businessman, a student, a farmer and a banker.

A total of 1,134 candidates applied to join the 10-week show but only 10 were picked, based on their personality and Islamic knowledge.

For the duration of the show, they are quarantined at a mosque dormitory and banned from using phones, the Internet and television so they focus on their religion.

Each week they face written and practical tests on the religion, and 2 contestants are knocked off.

The prize for the winner is not the chance of global fame and fortune but a trip to the holy city of Makkah to perform hajj, a spiritual journey every Muslim must perform  once in the lifetime.

They winner also gets a scholarship to the al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia and a job at a mosque.

Role Models

The show is gaining huge popularity in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country where Muslim Malays make up nearly 60 percent of 26 million population.

It has taken social networking giant Facebook by storm as fans post comments in support of the contestants and the program.

"Wow, it was great to see "Young Imam" participants being regarded as stars,” said a posting last week.

The contestants have also become the center of attention of prospective mothers-in-laws who aspire to pious husbands to their daughters.

 

Hasan Mahmood, the sole judge in the show who wields the weekly axe, affirms that the popularity young imams are enjoying makes them bear the duty of safeguarding Islam and teaching Muslims to live harmoniously with other faiths.

"They are going to become good role models,” said Hasan, a former grand imam of the national mosque in Malaysia.

“We will use them to fight social and moral decadence affecting Muslims, like free sex and drugs," he added.

Ahmad Hazran, 26, a banker who quit his job to participate in the show, says he was thrilled to learn to be a religious leader, and aspires to help people with what he learnt in the show. 

"I prefer to work with the young people,” he said. “We cannot use force to change wrongdoers.”

“We have to mix with them and guide them to the right path."

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