A Saudi woman received a death threat last week after she appeared on “Poet of Millions,” Abu Dhabi’s version of the game show “American Idol” — which features aspiring poets instead of singers — and recited a poem attacking clerics for “terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace.”
This week she returned to perform a similar poem and was rewarded by the judges who made her the first female contestant to reach the show’s final round.
As the newspaper The National reports from Abu Dhabi, the woman, Hissa Hilal, “sparked controversy in Saudi Arabia, especially on Internet forums.”
“According to reports, many viewers praised her for her courage, but others attacked her for criticizing clerics and reciting her poems in public,” the newspaper wrote. “One website called for her death.”
According to the newspaper, a rough translation of the poem Ms. Hilal performed last week includes the verses:
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; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.
The site Middle East Online explained how the “poetess” impressed the judges enough to go through to the final round with the highest overall score during this week’s penultimate episode:
Hissa delivered a 15-verse free poem in the first part of the episode during which she described her reaction to the public feedback on her harsh poem on Fatwas she delivered in the last episode. Hissa’s brave step to touch such a controversial topic in the Muslim world drew mixed criticism as some branded her anti-Islamic while others supported her.
In the second part of the episode all poets had to improvise a short poem of six verses to match a poem by the competition’s first winner Mohammed Bin Futase Al Murri of Qatar. According to Sultan Al Amimi, a member of the jury, poets are required to improvise the poem in weight, rhyme and subject without using the poet’s name, nor reusing any of his metaphors.
After delivering their powerful poems, the panel announced the results: Hissa gained 47 points out of 50.
The same Web site reported last year that another female contestant, Aydah al-Aarawi al-Jahani, competed despite “mounting pressure from family and tribe members, in Saudi Arabia, to resign from the competition due to the fact that she is female.” Here is a clip of her performing on “Poet on Millions” last season:
The competition’s winner will go home with more than $1.3 million. By just reaching the final, Ms. Hilal is guaranteed to win at least $270,000.
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