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Younger Muslims Tune In to Upbeat Religious Message

On the religious channels, some funded by governments and others by wealthy investors, voices such as Masoud's still compete for attention with extremists'. It is too soon to fully gauge the long-term impact of the youthful preachers, but interviews with viewers as well as religion and media analysts made it clear they are a rising force.

"Governments have realized that the good old days of controlling what people watch on TV are over," said Jawad Abbassi, general manager of Arab Advisors Group. "This has also rattled the religious conservatives. They don't like it that suddenly there is competition."

In her home in northern Egypt, Leboudy teared up when talking about Masoud. "Without satellite, I never would have heard of Moez," she said. "He is something I have been searching for my whole life."

'I Try to Give Them Hope'

On a recent Monday night in Alexandria, the ancient Mediterranean city on Egypt's north coast, more than 1,500 people poured into a huge hall to hear Masoud speak.

The crowd divided by sex, as is customary in much of the Muslim world. Women sat on folding chairs behind men who sat close to the stage on large red carpets. A few women wore black veils covering everything but their eyes, but most wore brightly colored veils that covered only their hair. Many wore tight designer jeans and carried expensive purses. The men were mostly cleanshaven and stylish, wearing jeans and Timberland and Nike shoes.

They were mostly in their late teens or 20s, university students or young professionals who had heard about the event on Masoud's Web site or on his popular page on Facebook.

Most of them had first seen Masoud on his recent series on Iqra, called "The Right Way." The show was filmed in MTV style, with quick-cut camera shots showing Masoud on the streets of Cairo, Istanbul and London, and Jiddah and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Masoud interviewed young Muslims and non-Muslims on topics such as alcohol and marijuana, veils for women, romance and terrorism. As he spoke in London, the bare legs of British women in miniskirts walking past him were blurred out to conform to Muslim standards of modesty.

As the lights came up in Alexandria, Masoud, tall and trim, wearing corduroy pants and a maroon, open-necked shirt, descended stairs at the back of the stage to loud applause.

"Salaam aleikum," he said, urging his audience to bow their heads for an opening prayer. For the next 90 minutes, Masoud worked the stage like a seasoned performer, his voice rising and then falling to a whisper, mixing Koranic verses with jokes and parables.

"We will be responsible to God on Judgment Day," he said, arguing that violence against non-Muslims violates God's will. "He will ask: Did you represent our religion correctly? If you feel happy that non-Muslims are being killed, this is wrong. They are our brothers."

Many Muslim preachers say it is sinful for unmarried women and men to mingle without supervision. But Masoud told his young crowd that while sex before marriage was wrong, it was important for men and women to get to know one another.

"A lot of Muslims act as if we can't enjoy this life, we can only enjoy the afterlife," he said. "That is not right. We should enjoy life, enjoy music and art. This life is ours and we should enjoy it." But, he added, "If you really truly love God and feel that all your pleasure comes from God, anything else will pale in comparison."


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