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July 4, 2008
A gay jihad
Story of queer Muslims’ struggle required ‘guerrilla filmmaking
Columbus--Documentaries exploring the contentious and often traumatic nexus of homosexuality and religion have appeared with some frequency in the last few years. Trembling Before G-d, Jesus Camp and For The Bible Tells Me So are just a few.
Now there’s Parvez Sharma’s debut documentary Jihad for Love, which delves into the world of gay and lesbian Muslims.
The Wall Street Journal called the film “revealing and moving” and Sharma, originally from India, “a gifted filmmaker.” A gay Muslim himself, Sharma takes the audience into a world where cameras have rarely gone. Viewers also get to meet a cast of characters rarely given any face time in the media, be it television, film, books or news.
The film is ambitious not just for tackling a very hot-button issue, especially in the Islamic world, but also because it seems to be a complete labor of conviction. Shot over 5˝ years in a dozen countries, the film speaks vividly about being gay and Muslim in nine different languages.
Sharma claims that the film’s genesis lies in the fact that he felt compelled to come out after 9-11, in a world when Islam not only became the villain at center stage of global politics, but also in a time when a different face of Islam needed to make itself seen in the western world.
Sharma refers to the plight and predicament of gays and lesbians in the Muslim world as an “enormous struggle.”
The same could be said about making a film of this nature.
Sharma describes his experiences in making the movie as “guerrilla filmmaking.” He entered many countries on a tourist visa, because to get permission to shoot a film about gays and lesbians meant he would not have been allowed entry at best, or been allowed in and then arrested at worst.
Parts were filmed undercover in several countries. In Egypt, gay men were deliberately targeted in 2001. In Lebanon homosexuality is criminalized in the penal code. And in Iran, we have far too often seen gay men being put to death.
In the film, a group of Iranian men try to flee to Turkey in hopes of applying for political asylum in Canada.
As an imam in the film says about Islam’s horrific, even barbaric attitudes towards gays: “The only difference amongst the jurists is how [the homosexual] must be killed.”
Some in the film are brave enough to tell their stories and reveal their faces. There’s young Mazen, who spent two years in prison in Egypt for being gay after being rounded up in the 2001 raids. He was tortured and raped by a policeman. Thankfully, he has found shelter in France.
Many more in the film tell their stories but do not want their faces shown. Sharma has said often that he was deeply worried about the safety of people he was leaving behind.
Last September, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spoke at Columbia University, he claimed that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.”
Sharma exposes that claim as lies and propaganda, denial and discomfort.
For all these reasons and more, this is an important film, necessary viewing.
The word jihad, which has been so bastardized in the western world, simply means “an inner struggle” or “to strive in the path of God.” It does not, as many Islamophobes claim, mean “holy war.”
Part of Sharma’s genius and political triumph is to take a very contentious word like jihad and place it next to a word like love. After all, in the LGBT world all over the world, there is a universal jihad for love, acceptance and equality.
Jihad for Love will show at the Wexner Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26 at 7 pm. Tickets are $7, $3 for students, seniors and Wexner Center members. For more information, go to www.wexarts.org or call 614-2923535.