Abu Dhabi TV’s Idol-style Million’s Poet show is reaching its grand finale soon, and one of the favorite contestants to win the coveted title of The Million’s Poet is a Saudi housewife called Hissa Hilal (also known as Remia). She is one of the 6 finalists out of a field of 48 competitors to reach the final. And she reached the final with a poem attacking what she called “ad hoc subversive” fatwas.
But what is an example of a “subversive” fatwa? Several newspapers linked her poem to the recent fatwa issued by Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al Barrak. The Sheikh issued the fatwa on sex segregation in his website last month. In his fatwa, he said that anyone who says that Islam allows mixing of sexes is to be executed 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”.
But Hissa Hilal denied that she was referring to the Sheikh: “I don’t know Al-Barak and I don’t know if he is extremist or not. I was talking about the condition of fatwas in the Arab world in general and their increasing popularity with people who are extremists. Media people want to make news that interest the public, but they were unjust to me when they linked my poem to Al-Barak’s fatwa. I have told newspapers over and over again that I am not attacking Al-Barak. It is not my fault that journalists made their own conclusions.”
So why is Hissa Hilal so against extremist fatwas? She explains that these extremist fatwas are “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”.
But why do Muslims accept such extremist fatwas? Hissa Hilal said that this is due to the clerics’ use of language that is “embedded in the consciousness of ordinary people.” That’s why, even though there are Muslim writers and scholars who disagree and condemn such extremist fatwas, their writings do not cut any ice because they use contemporary modern language in their writings.
Hissa Hilal said: “Most contemporary writers and scholars use a modern language to critique such thinking while Arab imagination is caught in a language that was used 14 centuries ago. People will be more impressed with the one who uses the old language, the language used by pious people in the past. This is the danger of terrorist thinking – to use the religious terms and expressions that are deep-rooted in everyone’s psyche.”
But what made her choose a topic like “ad hoc extremist” fatwas for her competition? Hissa Hilal explains: “When I went to some open GCC countries, I noticed that western people looked at me suspiciously because I was wearing the niqab, but they would not do the same when they see a Sikh wearing the turban. Who is responsible for this suspicious look? Who made it happen? It was this kind of people – extremists – who have given us a bad name. Muslims, instead of being respected, they are a source of fear and suspicion because of these people.”
So what is the poem that she recited that got her death threats? Her poem, translated into English, reads:
“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.”
Her recital has brought mixed reactions. Many TV viewers praised her for being courageous, but there are also others, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, who critisised her for attacking clerics, and for reciting poems in public as a woman. The judges gave her the highest score, 47 out of 50, for her round, praising her for “honestly and powerfully” expressing her opinion.
Hissa Hilal is the first woman to make it to the final of the Million’s Poet show, also known as “The Poet of a Million” show. That’s a great achievement for someone who has been writing poems for the last 18 years.
Of the 6 finalists, 1 will be voted out (Idol-style) and the remaining 5 will get cash prizes. The winner will get the equivalent of $1,362,000, second prize winner will get $ 1,090,000, followed by $ 817,000 for third prize, $545,000 for fourth prize, and $ 272,000 for the fifth prize.
Will Hissa Hilal win the coveted The Million’s Poet title and the $1,362,000 cash money that goes with it? She has to compose a poem on “media” for the final. What will she say through her poem?
Think about it. Hissa Hilal raised some pertinent questions. Why is it that Muslims, instead of being respected, are a source of fear and suspicion in Western countries? Why are Muslim women wearing the niqab viewed with suspicion by people who normally won’t even lift an eyelid when a turban wearing Sikh passes by? Is Hissa Hillal right in saying that the cause of all this is the clerics who issue ad hoc extremist fatwas?