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MUSLIM WORLD: Malaysian reality-show contestants compete to be 'next top imam'

July 24, 2010 |  8:20 am

Malaysia's new hit reality show, "Imam Muda," or "Young Imam," is a lot like Tyra Banks' "America's Next Top Model," except that instead of, say, posing naked with tarantulas, contestants must wash and prepare a body for burial according to Islamic tradition.

"Imam Muda" pits contestants against each other in a series of challenges to determine who will make the best spiritual leader, or imam. In the featured clip, competitors try their hand at divorce counseling in order to prove they have what it takes to serve their congregation.

The winner, to be announced in the finale on July 30, will be sent to Saudi Arabia to pursue his religious studies, Upon his return, he will be given a car, a laptop and a position as imam in one of Kuala Lumpur's main mosques.

The show has proved especially popular among young people, according to NPR, which aired an interview with the BBC's Jennifer Pak about "Imam Muda's" appeal.

Picture 42 "You know, some people might question that perhaps this is not the best way to look for a religious leader," she said. "But the show creators think that this is the best way to attract more young people to learn something about Islam.

"And perhaps, you know, attract more of them to come to the mosque."

So far, the "Imam Muda" Facebook page has garnered about 46,000 fans who regularly post encouragement for their favorite contestants. It also appears to be a forum for the producers to solicit feedback and suggestions from fans about what kinds of challenges they would like to see the young imams take on.

"I would like to see their performance, such as Quran recitation, public speaking, nasyid (perhaps) with kids," wrote Yakinah Muhamad Nor, adding: "Invite Cat steven [sic] (sounds demanding?)"

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: "Imam Muda" is a reality show where contestants compete to become an imam. Credit: "Imam Muda" via YouTube

Screenshot: Contestants hear their next challenge. Credit: Meris Lutz