Ashraf Fayadh's "Disputed" Poems, in English Translation
petroleum is harmless, except for the trace of poverty it leaves behind
on that day, when the faces of those who discover another oil well go dark,
when life is blown into your heart to extract more oil off your soul
for public use..
That.. is.. the promise of oil, a true promise.
it was said: settle there..
but some of you are enemies for all
so leave it now
look up to yourselves from the bottom of the river;
those of you on top should provide some pity for those underneath..
the displaced is helpless,
like blood that no one wants to buy in the oil market!
pardon me, forgive me
for not being able to pump more tears for you
for not mumbling your name in nostalgia.
I directed my face at the warmth of your arms
I got no love but you, you alone, and am the first of your seekers.
you are inexperienced with Time
lacking rain drops
that could wash away all the remains of your past
and liberate you of what you had called piety..
of that heart.. capable of love,
and of intersecting with your obscene withdrawal from that flabby religion
from that fake Tanzeel
from gods that had lost their pride..
you burp, more than you used to..
as the bars bless their visitors
with recitations and seductive dancers..
accompanied with the DJ
you recite your hallucinations
and speak your praise for these bodies swinging to the verses of exile.
he’s got no right to walk however
or to swing however or to cry however.
he’s got no right to open the window of his soul,
to renew his air, his waste, and his tears..
you too tend to forget that you are
a piece of bread
on the day of banishment, they stand naked,
while you swim in the rusty pipes of sewage, barefoot..
this could be healthy for the feet
but not for earth
prophets have retired
so do not wait for yours to come to you
and for you,
for you the monitors bring their daily reports
and get their high salaries..
how important money is
for a life of dignity
my grandfather stands naked everyday,
without banishment, without divine creation..
I have already been resuscitated without a godly blow in my image.
I am the experience of hell on earth..
is the hell prepared for refugees.
your mute blood will not speak up
as long as you pride yourself in death
as long as you keep announcing -secretly- that you have put your soul
at the hands of those who do not know much..
losing your soul will cost time,
much longer than what it takes to calm
your eyes that have cried tears of oil
* These poems appeared in Fayadh's poetry collection Instructions Within which was published by the Beirut-based Dar al-Farabi in 2008 and later banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia.
Translated by: Mona Kareem
After nearly two years in prison, Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh, age 35, was sentenced to death by Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, November 17.
The Independent reports that the Human Rights Watch has seen the trial documents, and the charges against Fayadh include apostasy and abandoning his Muslim faith. Other artists who have recently been prosecuted by conservative regimes include Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.
Fayadh is a member of Edge of Arabia, a British Saudi art organization, which on November 16 installed two murals at the United Nations as part of “Our Mother’s House,” an arts initiative run with Art Jameel in support of the women of southwest Saudi Arabia. The two groups were highlighted at the Armory Show’s Focus Section 2015.
“He was instrumental to introducing Saudi contemporary art to Britain and connecting Tate Modern to the emerging scene,” Edge of Arabia co-founder Stephen Stapleton told the Guardian. “He curated a major show in Jeddah in 2013 and co-curated a show at the Venice Biennale later that year.”
Fayadh was arrested on January 1, 2014, having been accused of having promoted atheism in his 2008 book of poems, Instruction Within. He was initially detained by police in August of 2013, but was released on bail just a day later. On social media, Fayadh’s friends have alleged that when police were unable to prove his atheism, they became critical of his long hair and smoking habit.
“They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society,” Fayadh told the Guardian, explaining that his poems were “just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee… about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”
Initially sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes in 2014, Fayadh was subsequently retried. He has 30 days to appeal the new ruling, which was made in accordance with Sharia Islamic law, on which the Saudi justice system is based.
A prosecution witness who testified in the trial reportedly accused Fayadh of cursing God, Muhammad, and Saudi Arabia. Fayadh believes that the complaint stemmed from an argument he had at a cafe with another artist about contemporary art.
The Guardian reports that court documents quote Fayadh as saying “I am repentant to God most high and am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.”
“I was really shocked,” said Fayadh of the new verdict, “but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death.”
I will ignore the smell of mud, and the need to reprimand the rain, and the
burn that has long since settled in my chest.
I am looking for fitting consolation for my situation, which doesn’t allow me to interpret your lips however I wish
Or to brush away the drops of mist from your reddish petals
Or to ratchet down the level of obsession that overtakes me when I realize you are not beside me at the moment
And will not be… When I am forced to justify my position to the punishing silence of the night.
Just act as if the earth is silent, as we see it from a distance, and that everything
that’s happened between us was not more than a bad joke that’s
gone too far!
What do you think of the days I spent without you?
About the words that evaporated so quickly from my heavy pain?
About the knots that were deposited in my chest like dried algae?
I forgot to tell you that I’ve grown used to your absence (technically speaking)
And that wishes lose their way to your desires
And my memory is being eroded.
That I am still chasing the light, not to see, but because darkness is scary
…even if we get used to it!
Would my apology be enough? For everything that has happened while I tried to make up good excuses.
I will have to sidestep my memory
And claim that I sleep well.
I’ve got to tear out the questions
That have come looking for a rationale, to get convincing answers.
The questions that, for very personal reasons, have come after the fall of the usual punctuation.
Let the mirror explain how beautiful you are!
Remove your dusty pile of words, breathe deeply.
Remember how much I loved you, and how the whole thing turned into an electric shock that could have caused a huge fire…in an empty warehouse!
Translated by Mona Kareem. Mona Kareem is a stateless poet and writer from Kuwait. She published two poetry collections in Arabic and is currently a doctoral candidate at the Comparative Literature department in Binghamton University.
Ashraf Fayadh is a Palestinian poet who came to Saudi Arabia as a refugee, and is now facing execution by his adopted homeland for a series of poems that he wrote describing his life while fleeing war in Palestine.
Fayadh was charged in November 2015 with apostasy, or abandoning Islam, over the contents of his 2008 collection of poetry, Instructions Within. Apostasy is punishable by death in the theocracy, in which the last recorded judicial execution for the crime was the 1992 public beheading of a man alleged to have called Mohammed a liar.
In addition to his poetry, an unnamed witness and two members of Saudi Arabia’s Mutaween religious police force testified to having overheard Fayadh “cursing God, the Prophet Mohammed, and Saudi Arabia” to a fellow artist in a café.
Fayadh himself continues to state that he is a practicing Muslim, and denies all accusations brought against him.
Fayadh was originally sentenced in 2014 to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but his penalty has been upgraded to death as a result of the effective absolute power granted to Saudi judges to interpret Sharia law as they choose. The judge presiding over the recent review of Fayadh’s case dismissed the testimony of the defense in favor of only accepting those of the witnesses who testified against the poet.
Evidence presented by the prosecution as proof of Fayadh’s atheism included the length of his hair, his smoking of cigarettes, and photographs on Instagram in which Fayadh posed with female artists at an art show in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Many of Fayadh’s friends have stated their belief that the true motivation for the case against the poet was a video which he posted online criticizing a public lashing by the Mutaween.
The poet, who was denied access to a lawyer after his ID was confiscated in 2014, has been given 30 days to appeal his trial. The date for Fayadh’s execution is not known yet, those sentenced to death have been known to spend anywhere between 5 years and over a decade in prison prior to the carrying out of their sentence.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A Palestinian artist sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for apostasy was quoted by a local news website Thursday as saying that he is not an atheist and that his case centers around a personal dispute he had with someone.
Ashraf Fayadh gave the interview to Mecca Online from inside a prison in Abha, the southwestern city where he has been held since January 2014. He said a Saudi college student he knew filed a complaint to religious police accusing him of being an atheist and trying to spread atheism through a book of poetry he wrote.
Religious police detained Fayadh for a few hours after the complaint was filed and then released him, he said.
Fayadh said his poetry book was then sent to a council of clerics for their assessment of its content. The council deemed parts of the book atheistic. He said the Arabic book, called "Instructions Within", was published in Lebanon in 2008 and has not been published in Saudi Arabia.
"I am not an atheist and it is impossible that I could be," he said.
A Saudi court in Abha initially sentenced him to 800 lashes and four years in prison. He says his prison sentence was based on photos on his phone found by the religious police the night of his brief detention. He told Mecca Online the photos were of nothing more than of female colleagues he'd met through his participation in art exhibitions, which include the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Saudi courts adhere to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law and religious police strictly enforce the segregation of unmarried men and women. This has drawn comparisons to some of the ideologies underpinning the extremist Islamic State group.
The Saudi Justice Ministry plans to file a case against someone who wrote on Twitter that Fayadh's ruling was "IS-like" in reference to the extremist group, a Saudi news website reported this week.
Al-Riyadh, quoting an unnamed official, said the Justice Ministry vows to take all necessary legal measures against any person or media outlet that insults the judiciary or compares its rulings to IS. The official said questioning the kingdom's justice system is essentially to question the justice of Islamic law.
Fayadh said after the initial trial, an appeals court recommended blasphemy charges against him be stiffened and that he be sentenced to death. He said the appeals court also recommended rejecting defense testimony, citing the Palestinian artist's own admission to writing the book.
After one hearing, the lower court issued its death sentence in the retrial last week on blasphemy-related charges.
"The judgment against me was based on the testimony of this student," Fayadh said. "The terminology I am condemned for is not even in the book, but the accusation against me was based on wrong interpretations for some of the poems."
Fayadh plans to appeal the verdict, which means the case will likely be tossed back to the appeals court and then the Supreme Court. There are no known cases in recent years of executions for apostasy in Saudi Arabia, despite such verdicts.
International human rights groups have condemned his sentencing. The Palestinian government, the General Union of Arab Writers and The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information are calling for his release.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.