from Photographers' Blog:

Religious Imam, reality TV star and dream son-in-law?

When a friend told me about the "Young Imam" reality TV show, I thought it must be just another 'preaching and nagging' religious program.

But when another friend of mine jokingly said "the young imams are dream son-in-laws", I decided I should take a peek into this phenomenon. While I could understand why Mawi became a heartthrob of teenage girls after he won the Malaysian version of American Idol but, a religious TV program doesn't usually catch on in Malaysia.

After locating "Imam Muda" ("Young Imam" in Malay) on one of the our cable TV channels, I found it to be interesting.

"Ultimate Young Imam" candidate, Asyraf, a contestant in a Malaysian reality TV competition to find the country's best young Imam, is silhouetted as he prepares to rehearse ahead of the final in Kuala Lumpur July 29, 2010.  REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad
(Click on the image above for an audio slideshow)

It began with 10 educated and professional candidates. They came from various backgrounds - a bank officer, an entrepreneur, a farmer, a religious teacher and a graduate student, among them. The imam muda recited verses of the holy Koran, prepared the dead for burial, slaughtered animals in a halal manner, following the Muslim ritual, and counseled young Muslims.

Contestant of Malaysia's "Young Imam" cable television program, Asyraf, preaches before the Friday prayer during the show's recording in Kuala Lumpur July 16, 2010.   REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

From that moment, I started to keep up to date with who was eliminated each week.

from Photographers' Blog:

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Coverage of the 2009 Haj pilgrimage was an enlightening experience for me as a photographer. I have covered many religious events in Iran but never anything as enormous as the Haj - this year complete with the added threat of H1N1.

I arrived in Jeddah several days before the start of the Haj and found Saudi Arabia to have all the luxuries and organization of the United States. My picture was taken at passport control and fingerprints scanned.  I was met at the airport by our minder from the Ministry of Information with a driver and a large American SUV. We went straight to the media center to get my press credentials and on to the road leading to Mecca to take pictures of checkpoints and security. Police officers were wearing masks to protect them from flu as were many pilgrims.

The following day we left for Mecca at 3 am to be on top of Noor Mountain at sunrise. It was a long, tiring climb but well worth it as the sun started to rise and light allowed me to make images. In the afternoon we went to a military base to take pictures of security arrangements for the Haj, attended by many Saudi and foreign dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz. It was basically a military parade showing the security hardware for police to deal with any security concerns.