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On reality TV: How to become an Imam

Bright studio spotlights illuminated the faces of four nervous young men, arms linked as they anxiously awaited their fate. Cameramen stood poised, ready to capture the climactic moment. Finally, the chief judge broke the suspense.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2010 23:57 IST
Liz Gooch/NYT
Liz Gooch/NYT

Cameramen stood poised, ready to capture the climactic moment. Finally, the chief judge broke the suspense.

Two of the contestants had been eliminated. The other two had taken a step closer to their dream. Winners and losers, each clad in crisp, dark suits and formal black hats, took turns hugging each other.

The competition is called Imam Muda, or “Young Leader” — a Malaysian venture into religious-themed reality TV.

The basic premise may replicate that of reality shows, but here, inside an auditorium at one of Kuala Lumpur’s largest mosques, are notable variations on the tried-and-true formula.

Before each episode, the contestants have gathered to recite a prayer, while the challenges they are judged on have included washing corpses in preparation for burial and ensuring that animals are slaughtered according to Islamic principles.

The prize pool, too, offers a clear indication of the detour the show takes from the usual reality show script. Cash and a new car are up for grabs, but the winner will also be offered a job as an Imam, or religious leader, a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia and an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

The show, which debuted in May with 10 contestants — whittled down from more than a thousand applicants with backgrounds ranging from banking to farming — has built an impressive following among young Malaysians. It is the most-watched show ever on Astro Oasis, a Muslim lifestyle cable channel, and its Facebook page has more than 50,000 fans.

Viewership is expected to soar on Friday, when the winner will be announced in a live broadcast from a convention hall.

The two finalists have spent recent days in their hometowns, giving sermons and organising community events.

During the finale, they will be required to debate religious and news topics, as well as recite passages from the Quran.

The New York Times

First Published: Jul 29, 2010 23:55 IST