Saudi Poet Attacks Conservatives in Verse

Hissa Hilal, a Saudi Arabian housewife, made waves with her poem criticizing certain religious scholars. Jezebel has a story here. And the UAE paper, The National has an article here.

From the former:

Hissa Hilal, a Saudi housewife and a contestant in an American-Idol-style poetry competition, read an incendiary 15-verse poem that criticized clerics who issue ever-more-restrictive fatwas, and referred to clerics as monsters “wearing death as a robe, cinched with a belt.”

And for Hilal’s efforts, the judges scored her 47/50, and she progressed to the finals. She’s guaranteed a prize of at least $270,000.

Of course, there have been death threats. But, Hissa told the Abu Dhabi paper The National, “Like anyone who receives a threat to scare him or her, I take it seriously, but only slightly.”

Meanwhile, one cleric whose unofficial fatwa, or religious opinion, inspired Hissa to her rhetorical feat is back-tracking. Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al Barrak, a fellow Saudi, released a statement on his website last month calling for anyone who allows or even supports the mixing of the sexes to be executed, because, in The National’s translation, “he is allowing what is not allowed, and therefore he is a kafir (apostate) who left the religion and should be killed if he does not change his opinion.”

Now al Barrak says his edict was “misinterpreted” by his students and “inaccurately” posted.

and from the latter:

ABU DHABI // A housewife who was the subject of death threats after reciting a poem on the Million’s Poet television show that attacked “ad hoc fatwas” performed a similar poem this week – and reached the final.

Hissa Hilal, a Saudi, said her work was inspired by what she called “subversive” fatwas, specifically one issued by Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al Barrak, a Saudi cleric, on his website last month.

Her recital on the Abu Dhabi TV show last week sparked controversy in Saudi Arabia, especially on internet forums. According to reports, many viewers praised her for her courage, but others attacked her for criticising clerics and reciting her poems in public. One website called for her death.

But Ms Hilal defied the threats, delivering a similar poem on Wednesday’s show – and she received the highest score of the round, 47 out of 50.

Sheikh al Barrak’s fatwa had called for the execution of anyone who says mixing of sexes is allowed in Islam because “he is allowing what is not allowed, and therefore he is a kafir who left the religion and should be killed if he does not change his opinion”.

The poem performed by Ms Hilal last week loosely translates as: “I have seen evil from the eyes of the subversive fatwas in a time when what is lawful is confused with what is not lawful;

“When I unveil the truth, a monster appears from his hiding place; barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt [referring to suicide bombing];

“He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorising people and preying on everyone seeking peace; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.”

The Saudi newspaper Al Watan reported that a member of the Ana al Muslim (I am the Muslim) website – which has previously posted videos about al Qa’eda operations – called for Ms Hilal’s death. One member was quoted by the newspaper as posting the message: “Can anyone tell me her address?”

Sheikh al Barrak told the newspaper that his fatwa had been misinterpreted by his students and was posted on the internet inaccurately.

He said he meant the fatwa only to refer to men and women mixing in private places, alone.

Ms Hilal said yesterday: “Like anyone who receives a threat to scare him or her, I take it seriously but only slightly.”

She said her family had asked her to restrict her poems to “ordinary” issues. But she added: “I want peace for everyone, Muslims and others. We are all living in a global village, so we cannot live without each other.”

Here’s a YouTube clip of Ms Hilal reading her poem:

The latest news I could find on the poetry competition was this article in ArabNet5.com, dated Mar 27th, (in Arabic), which says the next round will take place “next week.” Looks like they write the poem now, starting the 27th and have until Wednesday to finish it.

Good luck, Ms Hilal! Whether or not you win this competition, you’ve inspired a lot of people.

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