Reality show concludes hunt for 'ultimate young imam'

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The Independent Online

An Islamic reality TV show that made its contestants counsel promiscuous teenagers and bury corpses has named a mosque prayer leader as Malaysia's top role model for young Muslims.

Producers voiced hopes yesterday of launching similar versions of Imam Muda, or "Young Leader", in other Muslim-majority countries after the Malaysian show's first season became the most-watched programme to ever air on the Islamic channel of the Astro pay-TV network.

Muhammad Asyraf Ridzuan, 26, beat Hizbur Rahman Omar Zuhdi, an Islamic schoolteacher, to win the competition late on Friday in an event broadcast nationwide from an auditorium packed with spectators who had secured the highly coveted tickets. It was the culmination of a 10-episode run to find a man whose religious devotion could inspire other Malaysian Muslims of his generation.

Ridzuan's victory earned him prizes that mixed the spiritual – a new job as prayer leader at a prestigious Kuala Lumpur mosque and an all-expenses paid pilgrimage to Mecca – with the secular, including a car, iPhone, laptop and 20,000 ringgit (£4,000) in cash.

"I want to be a prayer leader who is friendly to youths, cool and relaxed," Ridzuan said after embracing his tearful mother and wife at the end of the show. "I want to play football with the kids in my neighbourhood and still be a spiritual leader."

The programme put 10 young men through weekly tests of their religious knowledge and social skills. Its debut in May hooked audiences who watched the contestants perform Islamic ablutions on two corpses left unclaimed for weeks in a morgue. They also buried the bodies amid a sombre reflection on their own mortality.

Subsequent episodes saw participants tackle community issues. They counselled unmarried pregnant women and teenagers detained by Islamic authorities on suspicion of having sex, spoke to couples contemplating divorce, and slaughtered chickens and goats according to Islamic principles.