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The Poetry That Led To A Death Sentence In Saudi Arabia

Earlier this month, a Saudi court overturned the death sentence of a Palestinian poet named Ashraf Fayadh. Fayadh was accused of renouncing his Muslim faith through his poetry.

After international outrage broke out over his sentencing, the Saudi government modified his punishment to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. He will also have to publicly renounce his poetry on Saudi state media.

Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd speaks with Mona Kareem, a poet and friend of Ashraf Fayadh who is translating his controversial book of poetry.

Poems By Ashraf Fayadh

Translations by Mona Kareem

وما بالنفط من سوء ولا ضرر

سوى ما لوثّ الأجواءَ من فقرٍ يخلفه

يوم تسود وجوه المكتشفين لبئر آخر

ويُنفخ في قلبك.. كي تُبعثَ روحك نفطاً

يُستعملُ للأغراض العامة.

ذلك وعد النفط.. إن وعد النفط كان مفعولا.


Oil is harmless, except for the trace of poverty it leaves behind

the day, when the faces of those who discover another oil well go dark,

and your heart—will be filled with new life so that your soul is resurrected as oil

for public consumption.

This is the promise of oil—a promise that will come to pass—

The end


قيل اهبطوا إليها

بعضكم للكلِ عدوُ

اهبطوا الآن منها

وانظروا من قاعِ النهر إلى أنفسكم فوق

وليمنح أعلاكًم بعضَ الشفقةِ للأدنى

فمثَلُ المعدمين في تشردهم..

كدماء لم تلق رواجاً في أسواق النفط!

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 in the oil market

no one wants to buy!


عفوك.. اغفر لي

اضرابي عن ضخ الدمع

وعن تكرار اسمك آناء الشوق

وأطراف الوحشة.

إني وجّهتُ وجهي بحثاً عن دفء ذراعيك

لا حبيب إلا أنت.. وحدك.. وأنا أول العاشقين.

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.



تنقصُه الخبرة بالوقت

وتنقُصُه زخات المطر

لتغسلَ كل عوالق ماضيك الضالة

وتمنحَك خلاصاً مما كنت تسميه العفة

والقلب القادر بهتاناً أن يعشق..

أن يلهو:

أن يتقاطع مع ردتك السافرة عن الدين الرخو

عن التنزيل الزائف

عن تصديقك بآلهة ضلت عزتَها.


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,

of play,

and of intersecting with your obscene withdrawal from that flabby religion

from that fake Tanzeel

from gods that had lost their pride..


تتجشأ.. أكثر مما اعتدت بأن تفعل

والحانات تبارك ما تتلوه على أسماع المخمورين

وأجساد الغانيات التي تنفث فيها

ويصحبك الدي جي

عند تصاعد ترتيلك الهذيان

وتسبيحك باسم الأجساد المتمايلة على آيات الغربة

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.


لا يملك حقاً في أن يمشي كما يشاء

ويترنح كما يشاء ويبكي كما يشاء

لا يملك حقاً في أن يفتح شباك الروح

ليجدد هواءها وهباءها وبكاءها

تنسى أنت.. كذلك أنك.. أيضاً


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


في يوم الحشر.. يقفون عراة وأنتم تسبحون في ما تصدع من أنابيب الصرف الصحي

حفاة.. هذا صحي للقدمين

لكنه غير صحي للأرض

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


الأنبياء تقاعدوا..

فلا تنتظروا نبياً يُبعث لكم..

من أجلكم يُقدم المراقبون تقارير يومية

ويتقاضون أجوراً عالية

كم هو المال ضروري

من أجل حياة كريمة!

prophets have retired

so do not wait for yours to come to you

and for you,

for you the analysts bring their daily reports

and get their high salaries..

how important money is

for a life of dignity


أقف عاريا كل يوم دون حشر.. ودون أن

يضطر أحد للنفخ في الصور.. فأنا مبعوث سلفا

أنا تجربة الجحيم على كوكب الأرض!


جهنم التي أعدت للـ لاجئين

I stand naked everyday,

without banishment, without divine creation..

I have already been resurrected without a godly blow in my image.

I am the experience of hell on earth..


is the hell prepared for refugees.


دمُك الأبكمُ لن ينطقَ

مادمت تباهي بالموت

وتعلن سراً أنك قد أودعت الروحَ لدى من لا يفقهها

فقدان الروح سيستغرق وقتاً لا يكفي

لمواساة الفزع لعينيك على ما ذرفت من نفطٍ

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


Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mona Kareem is a poet and friend of Ashraf Fayadh and is translating his book of poetry. (Twitter)
Mona Kareem is a poet and friend of Ashraf Fayadh and is translating his book of poetry. (Twitter)

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