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Where do we go from here?

Who Wants To Be an Imam?


Where do we go from here?

By J.P. Boyd

In Parts I and II, an exploration of alternative choices for retirement was presented, using the framework of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. Now we deal with self actualization: making a lasting and significant contribution and maximizing your personal potential.

Everyone has pondered the universal question of “what is my purpose here on earth?” In retirement, you actually get to answer that question. Now that you have traveled half way around the world, perhaps your purpose is to befriend foreigners. To learn a new language. To read books you never had time to read. To reflect on your past life. To “clean up” unrequited areas.

Maybe your purpose was to raise children. Do you have some volunteer time to offer to teach foreign children English? Or work in an orphanage? Or raise funds for the lost children in your area? Thailand is especially needy in the arena of volunteers for children’s causes.

Can’t decide what to do? Then try this exercise: write down the three things you most want to accomplish before you die. Do it every week and store it somewhere. At the end of four weeks, you will have your answer.

Congratulate yourself on being a “pioneer” for forging a new life in a new country, whether you choose Sicily or Thailand. Prepare a life resume of achievements and refer to this list when frustration or disappointment occurs. Keep a journal or start a blog. Who knows: perhaps your purpose now is to write the Great American Novel (or “fill in the blanks with your own country” novel).

Moving from the lofty principles of self actualization back down to more earthly considerations, once you are there, how do you transport yourself locally to where you want to go?

Public transportation makes Chiang Mai especially attractive to seniors. There are taxis at a modest price of about $3.00 to $5.00 for anywhere you want to go, and less expensive solutions in the form of a Tuk Tuk and songthaews, covered pick up trucks painted red that carry up to ten or more people. Bargaining and negotiation is expected.

While Sicily is exceptional in its rustic beauty and simplicity, it has limited public transportation. Cabs are obtainable at a premium (about $60.00 per half hour) and busses run for part of the morning and early afternoon only. Driving in Sicily is a challenge that requires strict concentration. Driver’s will make three lanes out of two and ride your tail like a dog on a tight leash. Motorcycles buzz like wasps, passing on both the left and the right, even when you’re about to execute a left hand turn. Driving past age 70 is not recommended.

International retirement is exciting. You are truly a citizen of the world, though, and must take into account all of the world’s events. Example: upon arrival in Sicily in 2006, I received 83 cents on the dollar. Loss of 17 cents on every dollar was offset by the enormity of savings on my lease and general cost of living. But when the dollar fell to 56 cents against the euro, it felt like throwing away half my retirement income every month. Now, lists the rate at 83 cents on every dollar. It’s like getting a huge raise. But stock market investments have gone down as the dollar gets stronger. Being aware of world events is a must.

Other world events include being aware of acts of God and political unrest. In April, I wanted to go from Sacramento, California, to Chiang Mai to visit my mother (she retired in Chiang Mai). Because of the political unrest in Thailand the U.S. State Department was not recommending travel to Thailand. I waited week after week, for the lifting of travel restrictions.

Becoming impatient, I finally asked my travel agent in Italy to send me home via Catania in Sicily. I received an exasperated e-mail telling me volcanic ash in Iceland had stopped travel completely in Europe. She had hundreds of requests to get people in/out of Europe, with no results in sight.

What do you do in those situations? Take a deep breath, think positive and remember, you are a self-actualized pioneer. Wherever you are, there are always places to go from here eventually.


Who Wants To Be an Imam?

Clarence Chua,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ever since the introduction of reality TV early this decade, Malaysia has embraced it with open arms – it even sent a man to space via a reality show. Now it has chosen a young Muslim cleric the same way.

The series, Imam Muda or young cleric, has generated plenty of interest in Malaysia and there are talks of a franchise in other Muslim countries. Last week a young Muslim student won the right to be an imam or cleric after winning the show.

Izelan Basar, the general manager for the religious channel Astro Oasis, is the brainchild behind Imam Muda.

“Basically, I created the content. It was developed by some of my colleagues in partnership with religious authorities. This is something I really wanted to do. For many years I have thinking about how to attract young viewers,” said Basar.

Ten finalists were chosen from 1,000 contestants for the show. They were given a variety of challenges including preparing a HIV-positive corpse for burial and counseling marriage partners while living in isolation at a mosque.

Despite the conservative Islamic trends in Malaysia over the last two decades, Izelan says he did not face any opposition from the religious authorities.

“The word imam is actually translated as leader. In Islam, every single male is an imam. Good leaders come from the home. Leaders of a house must pray and tackle problems. That is what we are looking for,” he said.

Hassan Mahmood is the former grand Imam of the National Mosque and the judge for Imam Muda. In the final, he grills the last two contestants on the conflict between science and religion. He dismisses allegations the show is un-Islamic even though the contestants are treated like celebrities and often wear western-style clothing.

“Many Muslims are static. They just watch the show and call it un-Islamic. We don’t want the best of Islam to be found only in books and theories. Islam is both East and West, so the criticism of the contestants wearing western clothing doesn’t really make sense. Whatever does not destroy our faith or our life is a good thing and is not in conflict with Islam. Why do we always look at things that pull it back? Islam is modern,” said Mahmood.

Finalist Hizbur Rahman Omar Zuhdi, a 27-year-old religious teacher, says the attention the show gets is good for the religion.

“Let us ask ourselves: ‘Is this show a good or bad thing for Islam? The prophet Mohammad is glamorous. There is no problem with being glamorous for the good of society,” said Zudhi.

The finalists were tested on reciting the Koran, presenting a sermon and singing religious hymns among other things. The winner was Muhammad Asyraf Mohamad Ridzuan, a 26-year-old religious scholar. His prize includes a scholarship to study at al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia and a job at a Malaysian mosque. Asyraf says his message for joining the show is very simple.

“Sometimes young people feel they have been sidelined from carrying out their religious duties. This program shows they can also contribute to Islam. Everyone can aspire to become a good imam and they can do it in many ways, not strictly through the Koran.

And it is this simple message in a modern reality show that makes it so appealing to both the young and old. Imam Muda creator Izelan Basar says they have even received interest from abroad.

“We have received interest from a few Islamic countries including Turkey and Egypt, but we would like to perfect the program first. When we designed it we did not think about going beyond Malaysian shores,” said Basar.

Izelan says there will definitely be a second season of Imam Muda and who knows, it may even be in a different language, in a different country.

This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by Indonesia’s independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from Asia Calling at In conjunction with the Faculty of Mass Communications, Chiang Mai University.