(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011. The finalists are, from left; Najdi, Azlan, Mujahid, Amar, Fakhrul, Nazrul, Hassan, Fadli, Fatah and Ali. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad )

(Finalists of Malaysia's paid TV programme "Young Imam, Season 2" pose after its live telecast in Kuala Lumpur April 18, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

A hit Malaysian Islamic reality TV show kicked off its second season this week after drawing more than 1,000 hopefuls from the region in a sign of the religion’s growing reach in Southeast Asia. Combining a reality TV format with Islamic teachings, the “Imam Muda” or “Young Imam” show is a talent contest for male Muslims aged between 18 and 27 who can speak Malay, with the winner crowned an Imam or religious leader.

The prime-time show features contestants in sharp-looking black suits who are judged on a variety of tasks including reciting Koranic verses, washing corpses, slaughtering sheep according to Muslim rules and counseling promiscuous young Muslim couples.

“Young Imam” first aired last year but was then only open to Malaysians. Its popularity led the producers to invite participants from other countries. More than 1,000 hopefuls from Malaysia as well as neighboring Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand auditioned for the show’s second season, and 10 were shortlisted, said Izelan.

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