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Malaysia’s Next Top Mufti

The latest reality TV sensation in Malaysia may strike Western viewers as an unlikely candidate to join the ranks of Ryan Seacrest and Heidi Klum: Hasan Mahmood, who wears a turban during each episode of his recently launched television series, "Young Imam," is the former grand mufti of Malaysia's national mosque.

At first glance, "Young Imam" looks fairly similar to its Western counterparts (it is often described as a relative of "American Idol"): each week, Mahmood winnows down a pool of young Malaysians competing for a glitzy prize package. But the similarities stop there. Instead of vying for premium record deals or glossy magazine spreads, the eager contestants on this show are competing for a shot at becoming the country's next leading religious leader. The winner will walk away with a scholarship to al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia, a job at a Kuala Lumpur mosque, and a fully-paid Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. They are judged on everything from their musical chops (when reciting the Koran) to their academic credentials (when interpreting the Koran).

In a country where extremist strains of Islam appear to be gaining traction (the government has recently issued warnings over the presence of al-Qaeda recruiters, and controversies over Shariah law are attracting increasing attention), the show's religious theme might be interpreted as another sign of the radicalization of Islam in Malaysia. "Young Imam," however, appears to project an intentionally moderate version of the religion. The content of the show was coordinated jointly by religious authorities and media producers and has gained a widespread following of Muslim viewers. One young fan credits the show with promoting a new and positive image of Islam:

These young imams are modern, and we need that. Muslims these days are very progressive... After 9/11, it's good for us to show the true picture of Islam.

But for many viewers, the appeal of "Young Imam" seems to have very little to do with theology. Among the show's most devoted fans are older Malaysian mothers, who are thrilled to have finally found the jackpot of eligible bachelors: the marriage proposals -- sent on behalf of their daughters -- are already flooding in.

SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Aharon Barak is the new "wise Latina"

Looking at the opening statements of the Republican members of the Senate judiciary committee, it appears that, as expected, Elena Kagan's description of former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak as her "judicial hero" is going to be the "wise Latina" of her confirmation hearings

Here's Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):

She clerked for Judge Mikva and Justice Marshall, each a well-known liberal activist judge. And she has called Israeli Judge Aharon Barak-who has been described as the most activist judge in the world-her hero.

These judges don’t deny activism; they advocate it. And they openly oppose the idea of a judge as a neutral umpire.

Jon Kyl (R. Ariz.):

“Ms. Kagan has called Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak her ‘judicial hero.’ Justice Barak is widely acknowledged as someone ‘who took an activist approach to judging.’

“One respected judge, Richard Posner, described Barak’s tenure on the Israeli Supreme Court as ‘creat[ing] . . . a degree of judicial power undreamed of even by our most aggressive Supreme Court justices.’

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

Your judicial hero is an interesting guy. You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to me about why you picked Judge Barak as your hero because when I read his writings, it’s a bit disturbing about his view of what a judge is supposed to do for society as a whole, but I’m sure you’ll have good answers and I look forward to that discussion.

I'm not. In fact I'm willing to bet good money that Kagan and the White House have prepared aswers to the Barak question that shed absolutely no light on her views on judicial activism. The whole Barak issue may be a little strange, but if the Obama administration is going to pick a Supreme Court nominee whose views on a range of key issues are largely a mystery, they can't really complain when Senators go on these fishing expeditions.

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