Kabul, Mar.14 : Clerics in Afghanistan have reportedly expressed their anguish and raised objections to an Afghan woman making it to the final three in the country's version of Pop Idol.
Lima Sahar, who hails from the conservative Pashtun belt, will take on two male contestants tonight for a place in the final sing-off on Afghan Star, which has become one of the nation's most popular television shows.
Conservatives have decried the fact that a woman has found success singing on TV, while others - younger Afghans - say the show is helping women progress.
Under the Taleban regime that was overthrown in 2001, women were not even allowed out of their homes unaccompanied, while music and television were banned.
With her hair tucked under a headscarf, Lima brushes off her critics, saying there can be no progress for women without upsetting the status quo.
"No pain, no gain," she told reporters.
Lima saw off 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third series of Afghan Star, in which viewers vote by text message.
The format is similar to Pop Idol - the singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past winners have been given recording deals.
Afghanistan's clerics' council has protested to the president, Hamid Karzai, over the show.
"In the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don't need a woman singer. We don't need Afghan Star. We are in need of a good economy, good education," said Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the council.
"If Lima Sahar wins Afghan Star, how can she help the poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people," he added.
Haji Baran Khan, a farmer from Kandahar - the Taleban's spiritual birthplace and the city Lima now calls home - said a Pashtun girl singing on TV went against the country's culture.
"She is also affecting the minds of other good girls. She should stop singing," said Khan, whose three sons and two daughters told him about Lima's success.
Several hundred supporters lined up to get the three finalists' autographs at an event in Kabul.
The three finalists represent each of Afghanistan's three main ethnic groups: Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks.
The winner of this year's Afghan Star will take home the equivalent of about 2,500 pounds - a king's ransom in Afghanistan.
The odds-on favourite to win is Rafi Naabzada, 19, an ethnic Tajik, who calls the show "a symbol of unity".