June 8, 2010

Who Wants to Be an Imam?

There was an interesting article in yesterday's (7 June 2010) Straits Times about a television show up in Malaysia called Imam Muda ("Young Imam"). The Malaysian channel Astro Oasis (which we don't get here in Singapore) has created an Apprentice-type show in which ten young men, ages 19 to 27, compete to become employed as an imam.

Each aspiring imam on the show is given a task each week, and tested on his Islamic theory and practical applications, as well as leadership qualities until only one contestant remains.

The first task the men had to do was perhaps the most emotionally demanding: cleaning and burying a dead body according to Muslim rites. In this particular case, the body was that of a man who had died of AIDS; the body had been lying in the morgue for a month because no one had claimed the body by that time. (While it is certainly possible the deceased's family did not claim the body for fear of contracting the HIV virus during the cleaning of the body, which frequently is done in the family's bathroom, it's also possible that this particular victim did not have any surviving family. Allahu alim [God knows best]. It should also be noted that religious mentors and forensic officers were on-hand for the cleaning and burial to supervise the potential imams.)

The channel manager, Izelan Basar, said of this particular task:

"We believed if the contestant could face the dead body and burial process, then obviously they could face any other task in life as Muslims."

This is very true, IMO, but it also highlights the fact that the job of imam is much more than just leading prayers. In many ways, the imam has a similar occupation to that of a priest, minister or rabbi in that he needs to provide pastoral care, in whatever capacity that may take, to the people who attend his masjid. (One imam I know has talked of having performed several exorcisms.) Other tasks the contestants will face in future weeks include delivering sermons in real mosques, and visiting women's shelters and sites where unwanted babies are taken (presumably orphanages, but the word is not used in the article).

It sounds like an interesting show; too bad it hasn't been broadcast here yet.

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