Does Ustazah Pilihan have the X-factor?

On 1st October, Islamic lifestyle Astro channel, Oasis, is launching the first episode of Ustazah Pilihan (Ideal Ustazah). Similar in format to the reality talent show Imam Muda (Young Imam), a woman will have to jump through various hoops to prove that she’s the most qualified religious teacher of the land. Each contestant will be faced with a barrage of tasks, trained and monitored by two mursyidah (mentors) in issues that concern Muslim women over the course of 8 weeks.

There’s little to know if this reality show is actually any good until it’s on of course. But that doesn’t stop anyone from making basic conjectures about the show from the little information available online and dividing them neatly into the good, the bad, and the whatevs.

The Good: the most obvious is that this is a competition where women are being competitive, hence making a point that they’re demonstrably good and highly capable, in religious matters. Also, it is a programme in which the production team consists entirely of women. So there’s a notch for women making a mark in the production level of the competitive world of television and media in general. The reality talent show formula shows yet again that Islam is not stuck in the past, but rather utilises elements of popular culture to make the concerns of Muslims fresh, relevant, and to some extent, trendy.

The Bad: The competition already limits itself to a narrow definition of what will make an ideal ustazah as only women who are young (applicants between 18 to 27 years of age only need apply) and cover their aurat (codeword for wearing the tudung/hijab) are allowed to participate. It is unlikely that lesbian and trans women are allowed to compete let alone make it through the auditions.

The Whatevs: the show already has got some flak from mainly male bloggers and commenters who are “concerned” that the programme will turn into a kind of meat market attracting lascivious men who are keen on ustazah-types. On top of this concern is the feeling that Ustazah Pilihan may make Muslim women too uppity for their own good and being excellent in an (public) arena dominated by Muslim men. So yeah, women can be serious about a career in religion, but not too serious or too good lest they outshine and topple men from their sacred pedestal.

Catch Ustazah pilihan on Astro Oasis, 1st October 2011.

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