A talented Saudi poet, Hissa Hilal, has become the breakout star of the popular game show Million’s Poet–Abu Dhabi’s version of American Idol, but featuring poets instead of singers. Hilal describes her poetry, which she says “has always been provocative,” as a “way to express myself and give voice to Arab women, silenced by those who have hijacked our culture and religion.”
Her poem “The Chaos of Fatwas”does exactly that. Referring to religious edicts, or fatwas, that are frequently pronounced by alleged leaders and clerics among various Muslim communities, Hilal writes: “I have seen evil in the eyes of fatwas, at a time when the permitted is being twisted into the forbidden.” She compares such fatwas to “a monster that emerged from its hiding place” whenever “the veil is lifted from the face of truth.”
Hilal’s poetry also lashes out at self-proclaimed religious clerics for “terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace.” And she says all of this from behind an abaya that covers everything but her eyes, proving that it is not what is on a woman’s head that determines her sense of liberation and commitment to social justice, but rather, what is in it.
Hilal’s stunning poetry won her more than the highest overall score during the week’s penultimate episode on Million’s Poet: It also elicited death threats. Like the Prophet Muhammad himself—whose life was threatened because of his commitment to the ultimate jihad that is “speaking truth in the face of injustice”—Hissa Hilal is a moral exemplar for all Muslim women and men. She is a feminist jihadist of the highest order, wielding the most powerful weapon known to humankind: language.
On March 31, the winner of Million’s Poet will be announced. Hilal is one of five finalists for the prize of about $1.3 million.