Imam Muda winner: Asyraf of Pulau Pinang

Check out this YouTube clip, "Hit Malaysian TV talent show stars Muslim scholars" for the names of the 10 'imam muda' (young imam).

The winner--the prize being a trip to Mecca to perform the haj--is by the way Muhammad Asyraf Mohammad Ridzuan from Pulau Pinang. Congratulations!

MALAYSIA'S top 'Young Imam' has vowed to soften the stern image of clerics and energise young Muslims after winning a hugely popular TV talent show search for a top young Islamic leader.

The show, which attracted worldwide attention, saw 10 finalists tackle tasks such as reciting verses from the Koran, washing corpses and slaughtering sheep according to Islamic rules. Following the reality TV formula of shows such as 'American Idol' and 'The X Factor,' one contestant was eliminated each week until the series drew to a close on Friday night.

Religious scholar Muhammad Asyraf Mohammad Ridzuan, who saw off nine rivals to win the 'Young Imam' title, said he wanted to reach out to youngsters to spark their interest in the religion. 'I want to be an imam who is friendly to the youth, cool, relaxed, able to play with children and engage the elderly,' the 26-year-old said after the finale, as he hailed the show as a 'victory of Islam'.

'I want to play football with the kids in my neighbourhood and still be a spiritual leader among them,' said the soft-spoken Asyraf, clad in a black long robe over a suit and wearing a white Islamic skullcap. Religious authorities in Malaysia, where more than 60 per cent of its 28 million population are Muslim, regularly make headlines with morality raids on hotels and nightclubs, looking for illicit drinking and sex.

In a development that alarmed rights activists, three women were caned in February for having sex out of wedlock - the first time the punishment under Islamic law had been carried out on women in Malaysia. But there is a debate even among Muslim leaders over whether the punishment-based approach is appropriate, or whether they should instead seek to persuade and inspire.

The shows' creators said a main reason for the success of the programme was that it has sought to make Islam more appealing to young people. 'I think it's because it's breaking a lot of traditions and a lot of stigma about the religion partly because of the title itself, 'Young Imam',' said Zainir Aminullah, editor of pay-TV operator Astro which airs the show.

From Straits Times, "'Imam Idol' hails win".


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