An Islamic Version of “American Idol”?

“Imam Muda” (Young Imam), a Malaysian Islamic reality show searching for the next young imam, just began its second season this week. The show, based on “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” first aired in 2010. The show now has a bigger following and has drawn over 1,000 possible contestants from around Southeast Asia.

The show runs for 10 weeks and the winner receives 30,000 ringgit (about $10,000), a trip to perform hajj, a four-year scholarship at Al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia, a car, and a job as an imam at a mosque in Malaysia.

Muhammad Asyraf Mohamed Ridzuan 2010 winner of "Imam Muda"

The ten contestants compete in a number of tasks. They must recite the Qur’an, give a khutba (a sermon), counsel young troubled Muslims and young couples, be familiar with the rules on washing the dead, and determine if animals are being slaughtered according to Islamic law–all  tasks that an imam would be required to do.

During the duration of the show, the ten contestants stay at a mosque without access to cellphones, internet, or television so that they do not receive any help from the outside.

The focus of the show is to change the image of an imam: stereotypically an older man, not in touch with his community, and only involved in his work in the mosque with little outreach work. In this show, the contestants are between 18 and 27 and are chosen not only for their Islamic knowledge, but for their personality as well.

According to Izelan Basar, the station manager of Astro Oasis, the satellite channel that produces the show,  the show is also aimed to  attract young people to their faith: “The end result, we leave it to God, but we want to do the best we can to attract youths to be closer to the religion.”

For me, Muslim youth are an important part of changing the image of Islam and the producers of the show obviously understand that. By encouraging younger Muslims to become imams and participate positively in their communities, it helps to prevent alienation and possible extremism. Also, by using entertainment as the medium, the producers recognize that this is a powerful means to reach young Muslims, who may not want someone simply telling them that these types of shows are forbidden without offering them an alternative.

What do you think of concept of this show? Do you think it is a positive step?  What characteristics do you think an imam should have? Please share your thoughts below.

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