Veiled Saudi poet rises to stardom after bashing clerics

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 18:35

Dubai: A Saudi housewife`s bold poems which
blast "evil" extremist fatwas by Muslim clerics have earned
her death threats but could yet win her a USD 1.3-million
poetry contest on Emirati television.

Ahead of Wednesday`s finals of the "Million`s Poet" aired
weekly on Abu Dhabi state television, the poems have put Hissa
Hilal, who wears a traditional head-to-toe black "abaya" cloak
and veils her face, in the spotlight.

If on March 31 she is announced the winner, she will walk
away with the grand prize from the competition, which draws
masters of bedouin dialect poetry, known as Nabati, which is
highly appreciated by Gulf Arabs.

But Hilal has drawn the wrath of Islamist conservatives
in her country after criticising its strict segregation of the
sexes and blasting fatwas that reject an easing to allow women
to take on jobs that are currently for men only.

The Saudi mother`s loud opinions have resulted in death
threats on Islamist websites like Ana Al-Muslim, an online
forum known for posting messages from al Qaeda, the Saudi
daily Al-Watan said.

A participant in the forum even asked for her address, in
an apparent threat to kill her.

"Of course, my husband, my family and I are afraid," she said to a news agency, adding that she has not been contacted directly with threats.

Hilal, who has not been to university, said that through
her poems, she wants to "fight extremism, which has become a
worrying phenomenon."

"A few years ago, society was more open. Now, things have
become heavier. Some men do not even shake hands with female
family members as they did in the past," she said.

In her poem entitled "The Chaos of Fatwas," which she has
recited during the popular televised competition, she boldly
charged that the "evil comes from those fatwas."

She compared their authors to "monsters wearing belts,"
an apparent reference to explosive belts worn by suicide
bombers.

The contest`s panel praised Hilal`s courage for
expressing her opinion "honestly and powerfully," giving her
the highest score of last Wednesday`s round at 47 out of 50.

Videos of Hilal`s recital of the poem are available on
the Internet.

The poem was seen as hitting out at Saudi cleric Abdul
Rahman al-Barrak, who issued a fatwa last month calling for
those promoting a mixing of the sexes in education and at the
workplace to be put to death.

Hilal said, however, that she was not referring to
Barrak`s fatwa in particular, but said that she was "against
the idea of killing a human being because of his beliefs."

She considers the mixing of men and women at work "a
necessity for daily life."

Radical Saudi clerics were infuriated when the reform-
minded King Abdullah inaugurated in September the kingdom`s
first mixed-gender university, the King Abdullah University of
Science and Technology, on the Red Sea coast.

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 18:35

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