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. Contestants on the new reality show 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. Their reward? A university scholarship, 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. "These young imams are modern, and we need that. Muslims are very progressive," one fan tells the Wall Street Journal. "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.