In America we have American Idol — but far more profound is Millions Poet, Abu-Dhabi TV’s equivalent competition in which contestants declaim poetry and vie for a five million draheem prize. This season an extraordinary Saudi poetess, Ayda Al-Jahani, has defied the political and religious leaders of her country, first by the fact that she is peforming, and second by the poems she writes and recites–poems which strike out against Islamic extremism. She has made it to the top five with poems that speak truth to power — and as extraordinary as her performance is, even more extraordinary is the response she is receiving from judges and audience. She performs with her face completely covered — and the effect is powerful and moving even if you don’t speak arabic. Here is the translation of her latest poem — a principled and courageous condemnation of fatwas and the clerics who impose them:
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, terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace..
Here is her performance:
Ayda has received death threats. Some of the comments on the link above are poetic in their own right:
Hissa Hilal, the darker the clouds, the brighter the light…will break through….inside of you…Do? stand tall and we all will be united in your words, your courage, no more fear in the end we are all the same….let love over rule! I believe in you!!!! I so believe in you! 😉 x
Allah swt watch over you Hissa,
Bless you for giving voice? to the voiceless.
bless you… bless you…
a thousand times bless you.
Al Jahani has been recognized by some English language bloggers — notably Bookninja and ABigMessage.com, who writes:
There are 5 prizes to be won in this year’s final round of Abu Dhabi TV’s Idol-style Million’s Poet Contest. And there are 5 finalists plus potentially, a sixth competitor if last year’s winner Ziyd Bin Hjab Bin Naheeb chooses to defend his title. But last Wednesday evening, part 1 of the contest opened, and Ziyd Bin Hjab Bin Naheeb declined to defend his Million’s Poet title. With this latest development, all five finalists, including Hissa Hilal, are guaranteed to win prizes.
Under the rules of the Million’s Poet Contest, a winner can keep the coveted Poetry Standard forever if he/she wins it 3 times consecutively. If the winner fails to defend the title the following year, he/she has no chance of keeping the Poetry Standard. In such an instance, the Poetry Standard is then rotated annually to each new winner until someone manages to defend the Million’s Poet title for 3 consecutive years.
Hissa Hilal is of course the first woman contestant to reach the final of this prestigeous Million Poet’s Contest. She got into the final round with a poem on subversive fatwas, with the jury panel awarding her the highest score of that round.
Sometimes, in the midst of all the depressing news that surrounds us, a voice of hope emerges.
A sincere and worred wish: May Hissa Hilal be safe, and free, and my her voice continue to be heard.