Malaysia Islamic TV show crowns best woman preacher

KUALA LUMPUR Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:14am EST

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian Muslim woman was crowned the best preacher in a televised Islamic reality TV show that aims to change conservative mindsets on the role of women in Muslim societies, passing tests on lecturing as well as renovating mosques.

The 13-episode prime time program titled "Solehah," an Arabic word meaning "pious female," judged young Muslim women on their religious knowledge, oratory skills and personality.

The show followed on the heels of the hit Islamic-themed show "Imam Muda," or Young Imam, which has taken place on a rival TV station to seek the best Imam, or male Muslim leader.

From auditions in June that drew at least 600 Muslim women aged between 20 to 30, the program weeded them down to 10 finalists for the final broadcast in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

Clad in colorful traditional Malay clothing with headscarves, the 10 took turns presenting Islamic teachings on moral values on a stage whose magenta lights at times seemed more suited to a song contest.

They were judged on their ability to "da'wah," an Arabic word literally meaning to spread Islam. In practice, it means delivering religious lectures to Muslims to encourage them to be better Muslims.

The judges, also women, occasionally were so moved that they wiped away tears, as did women in the audience.

The contestants were also tested on their ability to complete various tasks, such as helping orphans and renovating a rundown mosque.

The winner was 25-year-old Amie Sofia Ahmad, an Egyptian-trained Quranic studies graduate, the announcement of her victory greeted by a rain of confetti as she and two other finalists embraced.

She said she hoped her win would help widen the acceptance of women preachers in society and encourage more women to join the field.

"We will try slowly ... We will try to change (people's ideas) without going against Islamic laws," the serious-looking young woman, her head covered with a yellow scarf, told Reuters.

"It may not happen immediately, but eventually it will come, God willing."

She won a certificate, a pilgrimage trip to Mecca, $10,000 and a car.

Although Islam allows both men and women to preach, the field is dominated by men.

Haji Bukhari Che Muda, the chief executive of TV AlHijrah, the cable television station that produced the program, said the show had hit its aim of providing Islamic knowledge to audiences from all walks of life.

"People now understand what is the meaning of da'wah, what is the meaning of Islam," he said.

The station said it is considering running another season of the show, this time including foreign contenders as well.

(Writing by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)