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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Islamic pop storms Malaysia

Raihan: There is even talk of a film starring the group

By Frances Harrison in Kuala Lumpur.

Islamic boy bands in Malaysia are winning music awards for bringing people closer to Allah, while blazing the way for their female counterparts.

The BBC's Frances Harrison: "Their music now has a mainstream appeal"
The Taleban in Afghanistan and the hardline clergymen in Iran might regard them as blasphemous, but in Malaysia they are even a hit with the Islamic fundamentalist PAS party.

When Raihan - which means "a sense of paradise" - released their first album two years ago, no-one thought lyrics like "God is great" would make music history.

The album went on to sell a record number of copies in both Malaysia and Singapore - a level of success that Raihan say is a miracle from God.

[ image: Malaysian music awards: Raihan stole the show]
Malaysian music awards: Raihan stole the show
At the recent Malaysian music industry awards, Raihan stole the show, beating more conventional pop and rock singers to become the best vocal group.

It is a sign that their music now has a mainstream appeal.

The band were pleased about winning awards, but these singers are more interested in redeeming lost souls.

The lead singer of Raihan, Azahari Ahmad said: "Mostly in our songs there's a lot of advice and teaching. In the medium of music and song it's easy to convey something."

[ image: Raihan:
Raihan: "There's a lot of advice and teaching"
Because of the trend started by Raihan, a special category has been created in the awards for Islamic music, or Nasheed groups as they are known.

So many groups have followed in Raihan's footsteps that it is now a must for every record company in Malaysia to have a religious group on their books.

A few people have criticised Raihan for daring to put verses of the Koran and prayers to popular music. But the opposition PAS party, which aims to create an Islamic state in Malaysia, has openly supported the group.

[ image: Huda need their husband's permission to sing]
Huda need their husband's permission to sing
Raihan say they are just preaching a tolerant Malaysian brand of Islam to help bring the next generation closer to God.

Raihan's manager Farihin Abdul Fattah said: "I believe you put positive music in the minds of children and instill values, like respect your parents."

"Pray hard - work hard" is the advice to their fans. It seems to have worked for Raihan who are now preparing to record their first United States album. There is even talk of Raihan the movie.

[ image: Huda:
Huda: "Our artist friends can accept it. Thank God"
With the success of the all-male bands, it was only a matter of time before there would be a girl group.

Not exactly Malaysia's answer to the Spice Girls, the girls of Huda have to ask their husband's permission to sing.

Huda's members were chosen for their air of spiritual serenity. They are all mothers - thereby promoting family values.

If nothing else, their traditional dress means they stand out from the crowd.

"How we are dressed is called Juba, it is the costume of the Islamic Muslim women in the Prophet Mohammed's time and our artist friends can accept it, thank God," said a member of the group.

Many Islamic countries would not allow women to sing in public, but music like this is providing an alternative to western culture in Malaysia.

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