Monday, July 19, 2010

Odd spot! - Reality TV with an Islamic twist.

Forget Iron Chef, American Idol, Big Brother or Survivor, the latest reality TV show to hook the viewers in Malaysia is a hunt for "The Hottest Imam". Ibn Warraq reports on a show that has Malaysians swooning.

This is a story about a TV show in Malaysia, I don't think it is going to be copied in Morocco anytime soon, mind you, stranger things have happened.

They're young, tall-ish, dark and handsome and they've captured the hearts of Malyasian TV viewers mesmerized by their quest to be declared the nation's hottest up-and-coming imam.

Muslims may only make up 60% of the population, but a reality TV show appears to have the entire nation hooked. Contestants on the new reality show Imam Muda (Young Imam) are judged by one man - the former grand mufti of Malaysia's national mosque - and are ranked by their knowledge of Islamic theory, the quality of their voices citing Koran verses and intellectual feats. But they also tackle social issues involving young people, like motorcycle gang members and unmarried, pregnant teenagers. The show has it's own Facebook page and thousands of fans.

Show creator Izelan Basar says they are looking for the ideal imam - one who is well versed in spirituality and current affairs.

"There are two levels of audition. One is to ask him lots about religious knowledge and the second stage is about current issues and current affairs," he says.

"For example what do you know about the environment? What do you know about the monetary system, the economy? That is what we want. An imam who is balanced between the world we live in and the life after."

So if the contenders manage to win through, what is their reward? A university scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia, a job leading prayers at a Kuala Lumpur mosque and a trip to Mecca to perform the Haj pilgrimage.

The show is an odd mix of Hollywood razz matazz and ancient religion as the nation juggles the demands of faith and the modern world. And the show has attracted international attention with coverage in major newspapers and TV shows.

In the Wall Street Journal, one fan, Hafizul Fadly, a 27-year-old shipping analyst, enthused, "These young imams are modern, and we need that. Muslims are very progressive. After 9/11, it's good for us to show the true picture of Islam."

Thought the program has the look of Survivor meets Britain's Got Talent, the feats are unique. In one episode, contestants had to prepare unclaimed corpses for burial; an essential rite in Islam. "It's a tough contest, but if we want to be imams and lead our community, we should expect to face difficult challenges any time, any place," declared one brash contender.

The BBC tracked down some of the fans, amongst the Al Hussaini family. Syed Ja'afar Al Hussaini and his family try to watch every episode.

The Al Hussaini family

"The show is informative because I get to learn new things myself and refresh my Islamic knowledge," he says.

His four children, wife and mother-in-law gather every Friday evening to watch the prime-time programme and love it as contestants turned up at a halal slaughterhouse to inspect whether chickens were being prepared according to Muslim law.

It is a side of imams that the eldest son, Syed Muhammad Shafiq, rarely gets to see.

The 22-year-old says he would go to the mosque more if the imam was closer to his own age.

"The old generation of imams tend to only be in the mosque," he says. "They tend to only mix with the old people, because the way they think is quite orthodox."

A young imam would relate better to younger people and become a role model for them, he believes.

For the record, Malaysians, like Moroccans are Sunni. However, where a majority of Moroccans follow the Mālikī school of thought, In Malaysia the Shafi'i school is the official, legal form, although syncretist Islam with elements of Shamanism is still common in rural areas.


Tv Shows said...

Hello Warraq nice article and the pics will follow your blog.

Piggy said...

Twisted Reality! What a sad lot.