FaithWorld

Malaysia’s Young Imam reality TV show widens reach to Southeast Asia

(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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Suleiman the Magnificent TV drama opens Turkish divide on religion

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(Demonstrators attack billboards advertising the TV series "The Magnificent Century" in Istanbul January 9, 2011/Murad Sezer )

A steamy television period drama about a 16th century sultan has angered conservative Muslims in Turkey and sparked a debate over the portrayal of the past in a country rediscovering its Ottoman heritage.

“The Magnificent Century” chronicles the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire in its golden age. Scenes which have particularly offended show a young and lusty sultan cavorting in the harem and drinking goblets of wine, pursuits frowned upon by the Muslim faithful for whom the sultan had religious as well as temporal authority.

Major Muslim TV preacher Amr Khaled heads for Cairo

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One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers said on Friday that he was traveling back to his native Egypt, which is in turmoil amid mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Khaled, whose TV shows promoting Islam are widely viewed throughout the Middle East, told Reuters he was leaving the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland to head for Cairo. He would not say whether he would join the protests.

“My message to all Egyptians now is that our country is precious and the future needs a government that listens and respects young people,” he said in a telephone interview.

Russia to launch Muslim TV channel to promote tolerance

snowy mosque (Photo: Workers clearing snow during windy weather in front of the Kul-Sharif mosque in Kazan, capital of the Tatarstan republic, March 11, 2010/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia will soon launch a Muslim television channel in the hope it will foster tolerance after the capital saw some of the worst clashes since the fall of the Soviet Union, state-run media have reported.

Proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev two years ago, the satellite channel will go on air in February or March across Russia, home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the country’s population.

“We believe it is necessary to cultivate a spirit of tolerance towards representatives of other faiths,” RIA news agency on Tuesday quoted Russia’s Chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin as saying, adding programmes will be designed for a young audience.

California megachurch seeks bankruptcy protection

crystal one (Photo: Crystal Cathedral, 21 June 2005/Nepenthes)

The Southern California megachurch founded by televangelist Robert Schuller filed for bankruptcy court protection, saying a number of creditors had opted not to prolong a moratorium on debt payments.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries, best known for its weekly “Hour of Power” television program that it claims has 20 million viewers, listed assets and debts of between $50 million and $100 million each, according to documents filed on Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, California. Its largest creditors include several U.S. television stations.

Hundreds of U.S. churches have defaulted on loans and even filed for bankruptcy as they struggle to pay debts leftover from a historic building boom now that a deep economic downturn has cut into offerings. Financial woes have hit many large congregrations, from Without Walls International Church of Florida to Shore Christian Center in New Jersey, which filed for bankruptcy.

Feisty debates between Catholics and secularists before pope visit to Britain

arrest the pope002If you like debates about religion but were turned off by the uproar in the United States over Koran-burning and the New York Islamic centre, take a look at the rhetorical duelling that’s been going on in Britain ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit there starting on Thursday. For the past few weeks, the leading lights of secularist and atheist thought have been hammering away at the Catholic Church, playing up its sins like the sexual abuse crisis and arguing that the pope doesn’t deserve the honour of a state visit. A quick Google search digs out plenty of them. (Click on the screen grab for video on British group’s proposal to arrest Pope Benedict during his visit/MSNBC via YouTube)

On the other side, a group of lay Catholics has formed a speakers’ bureau ready to face off with the critics and defend the pope and the Church. They’re a kind of rapid reaction force, ready to appear anywhere to refute the secularists and atheists. The result has been a feisty in-your-face exchange providing the pro and contra arguments for many current disputes over the Catholic Church. Some arguments could be criticised as too emotional or even irrational, but boring they’re not.

Catholic Voices, the speakers’ bureau that’s been putting up sparring partners for the Church’s critics, must already rank as one of the big innovations of this papal tour.  Popes are no strangers to protests when they visit foreign countries, but the Vatican and the local Church hierarchy usually ignore the critics or give cautious responses. Under Pope Benedict, Vatican public relations has been so badly organised that both he and his aides have often provided even more fuel for criticism. Given the strong and mostly critical interest the media would show in the pope’s visit, these speakers – journalists, lawyers, students and a few clergy – decided the Church needed a more professional operation if it was to get its message across.

Expect papal meeting with UK sexual abuse victims — Patten

pattenOne regular but regularly unannounced feature of papal trips in recent years has been the private meeting with local Catholics who were sexually abused as youths by priests. Journalists only find out about them after they’ve taken place. Just such a meeting seems to be on the cards during Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next week, but of course it does not appear in his official schedule. Chris Patten, the prime minister’s special representative for the papal visit,  said as much on Monday in an interview with BBC television (quote at the end of the clip):

“On several previous visits, the pope has met victims of abuse. He has never said he was going to meet them before he did and his meetings have always, for very understandable reasons, been private. I would be surprised if in this visit or any future visit he behaved in any different way.”

When our London correspondent Avril Ormsby asked about any possible meeting with victims in an interview with him last week, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “It will not be announced beforehand, and it will take place in private, if that is going to be the case. But precisely because of those rules, it is not clear.”

Malaysia TV station axes Muslim ad because of Christmas overtones

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(Photo: Screengrab from TV3 commercial on YouTube)

A Malaysian television station has axed a commercial for an important Muslim holiday after viewers complained that it looked more like a promotion for Christmas. State-linked TV3 aired the commercial earlier this month to wish the country’s dominant ethnic Malay-Muslims a joyous Eid al-Fitr, which is likely to fall on Friday and marks the end of a month-long Ramadan fast.

The advert shows an avuncular white-haired man taking children to a fantasy land aboard a flying trishaw, drawing complaints from Muslim viewers that it resembled Santa Claus and his sleigh. TV3′s news anchors apologised on Sunday’s prime time news broadcast, saying the station had stopped airing the clip — which stirred a storm on the Malaysian blogosphere with numerous postings lambasting what was seen as an insenstive move by a government-linked company. TV3 officials could not be reached for comment.

Malaysia’s government has struggled to balance relations between Muslims, who make up a majority of the country’s 28 million people, and minority Hindus, Christians and Buddhists who complain of growing religious intolerance.

Christian-themed TV shows spark complaints in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon

saudi tv 1Television shows with Christian themes have sparked complaints in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon in recent days, but from different groups and for different reasons.

In Saudi Arabia, a popular sitcom has drawn the ire of conservative clerics over an episode portraying Arab Christians in a positive light after the kingdom sought to sell itself as a leader of dialogue between faiths. (Photo: Saudis watch a religious programme during Ramadan, 15 Sept 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

A two-part episode of the sitcom “Tash Ma Tash,” which has aired during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan for 17 years, showed the two main Saudi characters, both Muslims, being advised by their dying father to visit the brother of their deceased Lebanese mother.

German Catholics urge pope to speak out on sex scandals

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"... And the pope is silent" reads the front page headline in this Hamburg daily, 15 March 2010

German Catholic politicians and lay activists urged Pope Benedict on Monday to speak out about sexual abuse cases by priests that have shocked the country and led to questions about his management of the crisis. The calls came amid widespread criticism in the media that the Bavarian-born pontiff made no statement after getting a briefing on the scandals at the Vatican on Friday from the leader of the Church in Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch.

In Bavaria, a convicted abuser priest whose transfer to Munich in 1980 while Pope Benedict was archbishop there threatened to draw the pontiff into the scandal, was suspended from his post in a spa town, the Munich archdiocese announced.