KUALA LUMPUR – Following the success of the young imam show, a new Malaysia TV show will be testing young Muslim women's religious knowledge, skills and personality to choose the best women preachers.
"If American Idol can help their contestants develop as singers, our show aims to help Muslim women develop as Islamic preachers," Zulkarnaen Mokhtar, brand manager at the private television station which produces the show, told Reuters on Saturday, June 18.
Coming in 13 episodes, the new program titled "Solehah," an Arabic word meaning "pious female,” would start airing next October.
Participants would include young women who are aged between 20 and 30.
Testing their talents, young Muslim women would be engaged in a contest to feature charismatic young Muslim women judged by clerics on their religious knowledge as well as their oratory skills and personality.
Moreover, the women would be judged by their ability mainly to "da'wah," an Arabic word literally meaning to spread Islam, and deliver religious lectures to an audience of Muslims to get them to be better Muslims.
The show comes on the heels of the hit Islamic themed show "Imam Muda," or Young Imam, which second season is currently shown on a rival TV station and seeks the best Imam or male Muslim leader.
The show has gained huge popularity in Southeast Asia where Islam is the most widely practiced religion, with more than 240 million followers.
Malays, mostly Muslims, make up nearly 60 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million population.
Ethnic Chinese and Indians – most of them Buddhists, Hindus and Christians – make up about 35 percent.
The rest are indigenous people and Eurasians.
The country offers the image of a model Muslim country, heading towards the status of developed nation with huge buildings, beautiful cities and a fast track economy.
Stressing the importance of Muslim women rule in preaching the message of Islam, the program aims at changing the mindset of the males’ dominance in the preaching field.
"Solehah aims to be a show that provides religious education informally while acknowledging the role of women in the development of Islam," television station said earlier in a statement cited by Reuters.
Islam allows both men and women to preach religion to the society, though the field remains dominated by males in most Muslim countries.
The first day of two days of auditions for Solehah, held in the capital city on Saturday, drew a group of women clad in colorful headscarves, some accompanied by their mothers.
The young women were tested by a selection panel on skills including reciting the Quran.
They were also asked to deliver impromptu three-minute religious lectures on the responsibility of Muslims to help victims of natural disasters.
One of the contestants, Amie Sofia Ahmad, 25, an Egypt-trained Quranic studies graduate said some conservative Muslims frown upon Muslim women appearing and promoting themselves so openly on television.
"But we live in a modern world and television can be an important medium to spread the religion so why should we continue to remain in the background?" she said.
Prizes for the winners were not decided yet.
The prize for the Imam Muda men's program are a job as an imam, or mosque leader, a car, a cash prize of 30,000 ringgit ($9,922), and a four-year scholarship to Al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia.