Verse Behind the Veil Saudi Woman Challenges Religious Order with Poetry
Part 2: 'I Have Seen Evil from the Eyes of the Subversive Fatwas'
Nabati is the traditional poetry of the Bedouins, their equivalent of the blues or the chanson. Nabati are the epic songs of the desert tribes, simply constructed and usually performed orally. The ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also writes Nabati poems.
The poetry show is intended to keep the Nabati tradition alive. The prize money comes from the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. Ultimately, it comes from oil money.
Hilal entered the semifinal with a poem about fatwas. A few weeks earlier, a prominent Saudi cleric had ruled that anything that advocated the mixing of genders was worthy of condemnation -- and that anyone who opposed strict segregation of men and women should be put to death.
'Barbaric in Thinking and Action'
Hilal's response emerged from behind her veil in the form of simple, rhymed dactyls, but marked by an openness that attracted attention throughout the entire region:
"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 / He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorizing people / And preying on everyone seeking peace."
The final has been postponed, due to a gliding accident involving one of the sheiks. Hilal is waiting with her family in a hotel in Abu Dhabi.
But Hilal doesn't mind waiting. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot sit in a café unaccompanied by a husband or brother. Until 10 years ago, says Hilal, she couldn't even leave her house alone.
Some things have changed since the Kuwait war, she says. Her 11-year-old daughter speaks the English of American television series, and she is familiar with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. And yet even successful businesswomen arriving at an airport today must still wait, like small children, until an authorized man comes to pick them up, because women are prohibited from driving. In February, the media were filled with the story of a 12-year-old girl who had tried to obtain a divorce from her 80-year-old husband.
"I love my country," says Hilal. "But I'm worried that people are cloaking their own psychological problems, their envy and their narrow-mindedness in religious language, in order to confuse people. They attack me," she says, "but I fight." She raises her hands, tightens them into fists and mimics boxing.
She wrote her first poems at the age of 12. "My brother discovered my notebook and shouted: She's writing poems! My father ordered him to burn everything. I was devastated."
Writing under a Pseudonym
She sent her writing to magazines under a pseudonym, and she was published. She used the proceeds from her first published pieces to buy a fax machine, so that she could write articles for arts sections from home. She always wrote under a pseudonym. "It was wonderful to read, from my hiding place, what other people were writing about me."
She later published a book, under her own name, about women in traditional Bedouin poetry. She has four children, and her husband publishes a literary magazine.
Recently someone wrote a poem about Hilal herself, which has been circulating on the Internet. The author is a model pupil of the cleric who had issued the fatwa against gender mixing. The poem is apparently written in beautiful Arabic: "Here she is, prattling, blathering and chattering, without watching her words / Supported by a million devils broadcasting her ideas."
- Part 1: Saudi Woman Challenges Religious Order with Poetry
- Part 2: 'I Have Seen Evil from the Eyes of the Subversive Fatwas'
- Part 3: 'The Only Faceless Contestant'