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Million’s Poet Contestant Condemns Clerics

March 23, 2010

Image courtesy of The New York Times News Blog

Million’s Poet (a United Arab Emirates-based reality television program, which Elizabeth covered last spring) is nearing the finale of its current season. And Hissa Hilal, one of the program’s six finalists, is getting attention for her provocative, politically-driven poetry.

From The Huffington Post:

Then last week, Hissa Hilal, only her eyes visible through her black veil, delivered a blistering poem against Muslim preachers “who sit in the position of power” but are “frightening” people with their fatwas, or religious edicts, and “preying like a wolf” on those seeking peace.

Her poem got loud cheers from the audience and won her a place in the competition’s finals, to be aired on Wednesday. reports that Hilal, a Saudi woman, was directing her words at clerics such as Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, who issued a fatwa stating that the mingling of men and women is punishable by death. Hilal’s political poetry stands in stark contrast to the writing typically presented on Million’s Poet, where poems about Muslim history or Bedouin culture are more often found. As a result, she is finding both encouragement from fans and death threats from critics.

The controversy surrounding her work is not changing the topics Hilal chooses to write about. As she stated in an interview with The Associated Press, “My poetry has always been provocative…It’s a way to express myself and give voice to Arab women, silenced by those who have hijacked our culture and our religion.” In terms of her personal agenda and point of view, she simply explained that “My message to those who hear me is love, compassion and peace…We all have to share a small planet and we need to learn how to live together.”

Despite the eventual backlash, Hilal’s poetry has only helped her chances to win Million’s Poet:

The three judges gave her the highest marks for her performance, praising her for addressing a controversial topic. That, plus voting from the 2,000 people in the audience and text messages from viewers, put her through to the final round.

“Hissa Hilal is a courageous poet,” said [contest judge Sultan] al-Amimi. “She expressed her opinion against the kind of fatwas that affect people’s lives and raised an alarm against these ad hoc fatwas coming from certain scholars who are inciting extremism.”

Death threats should never be taken lightly, and the threats that Hilal has received are horrifying. However, it is important to note that these threats are only coming from fringe extremists, and that the majority of Million’s Poet viewers are in full support of Hilal’s poetry. It was incredibly brave of her to make such bold statements, given the possible backlash, but it is refreshing to know that she is being applauded more often than criticized for her words. Hilal is a wonderful role model for Arab women who want to speak publicly about their beliefs and experiences but lack the opportunity to do so. Moreover, her work is a refreshing break from the instances of religious intolerance, bigotry and violence that usually make headlines. Her message of love and acceptance cannot be overstated, and it is wonderful that she has had an opportunity to share this message with an international television audience.

The winner of this round of Million’s Poet will be announced on March 31. I wish Hissa Hilal the best of luck and hope she wins.

  1. amish permalink
    March 23, 2010 8:26 am

    Is there a translated transcription available for Hilal’s poem?

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      March 23, 2010 8:55 am

      Here is a loose translation, courtesy of The National :

      “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.”

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