Hit Malaysian TV talent show stars Muslim scholars

Like the stars of smash-hit television talent shows around the world, the eight young men in sharp black suits and matching skullcaps draw adoring fans and dreams of marriage. But instead of singing or dancing, they hit the prime-time stage to recite verses from Islam's Holy book, the Koran, wash corpses for Muslim burial and try to woo young Malaysians away from illicit sex and drugs.

The prize for the winner of the Malaysian show "Young Imam" is not the chance of global fame and fortune but a trip to Mecca to perform the haj, a scholarship to the al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia and a job at a mosque.

All the contestants, however, win the attention of young women and prospective mothers-in-law.

"For Muslims, the young imams are ideal sons-in-law because they are professionals and have good knowledge of Islam," said Izelan Basar, channel manager with cable network Astro Oasis which is broadcasting the programme.

Following the formula made popular through shows such as "American Idol" in the US and "The X Factor" in Britain, a contestant is knocked off the show each week - two of the original 10 have already gone.

The contest also provides the same emotion when a contestant is booted off, with hugs and tears from the survivors.

The 10-week series has sparked wide public reaction and has taken social networking giant Facebook by storm as fans post comments in support of the contestants and the programme.

"Wow, it was great to see "Young Imam" participants being regarded as stars. Fans were taking photos of them. Mothers were not shy to offer their daughters," said a posting last week.

Imams play a broad role in Muslim society, leading prayers at the mosque and counselling troubled individuals. The contestants include a cleric, a businessman, a student, a farmer and a banker.

The show is a "landmark programme with a refreshing approach to Islam", said media commentator Azman Ujang.

"An imam is usually linked with someone old. But here we have young personalities. It gives a vibrant look to Islam at a time when the community is facing so many social ills," he said.

The programme comes against a backround of concern among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities over rising "Islamisation" of the country and fear that tolerance towards Christians, Hindus and others is diminishing.

A simmering row over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims saw attacks on 11 churches and the dumping of the severed heads of pigs at two mosques in January.

In February, three women were caned for having sex out of wedlock, the first such punishment under Islamic law in Malaysia.

A total of 1,134 candidates applied to join the show but only 10 were picked, based on their personality and Islamic knowledge. Each week they face written and practical tests on the religion.

The young imams have bathed and buried an unclaimed body, followed religious enforcement officials to nab Muslims who indulge in illicit sex, and counselled illegal motocycle racers.

The sole judge who wields the weekly axe is a former grand imam of the national mosque, Hasan Mahmood, who said the young imams have a duty to safeguard Islam and teach Muslims to live harmoniously with other faiths.

"They are going to become good role models. We will use them to fight social and moral decadence affecting Muslims, like free sex and drugs," he said.

"What is the use of us achieving rapid economic growth and having dazzling skyscrapers when the society is sick?"

For the duration of the show, the contestants, who are aged between 18 and 27, are quarantined at a mosque dormitory and banned from using phones, the Internet and television so they focus on their religion.

Ahmad Hazran, 26, a banker who quit his job to participate in the show, said he was thrilled to learn to handle dead bodies and engage with the young and illegal motorcycle racers.

"I prefer to work with the young people. We cannot use force to change wrongdoers. We have to mix with them and guide them to the right path," he said.

Khairul Azhar, a 20 year old graduate student said he was excited that women had expressed a desire to marry the contestants.

"Yes I have heard about it. I think I can be a good husband and a responsible father," he said.

"I oppose violence. Terrorism is not a character of Islam. I want to help create a peaceful Malaysia," he said.

jsm/lb

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor