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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - 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 end result, we leave it to God but we want to do the best we can to attract youths to be closer to the religion," said Izelan Basar, station manager for the Malaysian satellite television station which produces the show.
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.
Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Southeast Asia with more than 240 million followers, with Indonesia the world's most populous Muslim country.
"I hope that through Imam Muda, I'll become confident and strong to face any challenges," said Singaporean Mujahid Suhaimi, 20, one of the show's contestants.
The show will run for 10 weeks with the winner offered a job as an imam, or head of a mosque, a car, a cash prize of 30,000 ringgit ($9,922) and a four-year scholarship in Al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia.
Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Liau Y-Sing and Robert Birsel