Hissa Hilal, a Saudi Arabian contestant on the widely viewed show “Million’s Poet,” is gaining worldwide attention for her poem that she delivered on the last episode. Her poem on the abuses of clerics earned her a place in the final five and a chance at 1.3 million dollars. Hilal, a poetry editor at Al-Hayat newspaper and a mother of four, has gone further than any woman in the competition and delivered her biting critique fully covered. While many are focusing on her clothing, I find her words more significant.
Her poem, written in the Nabati style native to the Arabian Peninsula’s nomadic tribes, attacks clerics who have issued fatwas that reflect an extremist attitude, which is not in line with the core values of the faith. Hilal’s poem focuses on fatwas like that of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al Barrak, who issued a fatwa for the execution of anyone who says the mixing of sexes is acceptable within Islam. While fatwas are non-binding legal opinions, Hilal asserts in The National that this kind of fatwa reflects “subversive thinking, terrifying thinking, and everyone should stand against it. One should not kill or call for the killing of people only because they do not belong to their system of thought or to their religion.”
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 hiding his place: barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt. He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorizing 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.
In these few lines, Hilal takes on the religious establishment and accuses them of taking advantage of their authority for their own self interest. Moreover, she asserts that it is not in line with Islam when she says that the “lawful is confused with what is not lawful.” In other words, these kinds of fatwas depict a false picture of Islam by manipulating it to serve their own ideologies. In her poem, Hilal is reiterating in Arabic prose what Muslims worldwide have repeatedly said: violence and oppression have no place in Islam.
However, her courage, which she says is needed before reciting her poem, has led to both positive and negative consequences. The obvious positive consequence is that she has a good chance at winning the competition in the April 7th season finale. On the other hand, the negative consequence is that there are many who are angry with her critique, which has led to death threats. Hilal has said, though, that she will not be deterred.
Hilal reminds the world with her poetry that Islam is about peace and that a Muslim woman in the words of Sofia Baig, another poet, is “someone to be respected not damned.”
To hear more about Hissa Hilal, listen to Inside Islam radio show on Islamic Feminism this Thursday, April 8th.
Have you heard Hissa Hilal’s poem? What did you think? Can poetry and art be a force for change? Please share your thoughts below.