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Where EAST meets the Northwest

A JIHAD FOR LOVE. Filmmaker Parvez Sharma captures the stories of Muslim gays and lesbians in A Jihad for Love. The film’s subjects — who live in 12 countries and speak nine different languages — bear the common threads of exclusion, isolation, condemnation, and persecution. Pictured are Imam Muhsin and Mufti AK Hoosen, whose stories are among those highlighted in Sharma’s film. (Photos courtesy of First Run Features)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #16 (April 21, 2009), page 13.

Reconciling Islam and sexuality

A Jihad for Love

Directed by Parvez Sharma

Produced by Parvez Sharma and Sandi DuBowski

Distributed by First Run Features

Available on DVD April 21

By Maileen Hamto

Is there space in Islam for gays and lesbians? In his first feature film, A Jihad for Love, India-born director Parvez Sharma takes an intimate look at the experiences of gays and lesbians struggling to reconcile their sexual orientation with the teachings of Islam.

Invoking the original meaning of the word jihad (struggle), Sharma captures the internal struggle and external pressure faced by gays and lesbians outed in Muslim society. The documentary captures the rich diversity of Muslims: The stories feature gays and lesbians in 12 countries, speaking nine different languages. Sharma’s jihadists include a gay Imam in South Africa, a lesbian couple in Turkey, and Iranian men who left their country to seek refuge in the west.

My Muslim friend always assured me, "We are people of the Book," referring to the common holy texts shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout the world. Indeed, the same stories used by Christians against gays and lesbians are the same ones referenced by Islamic scholars to condemn homosexuals: the fall of the House of Lot in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

A Jihad for Love follows refugees from Iran, imprisoned and persecuted for their sexual orientation and forced to leave the country, afraid for their lives and the safety of their families. While awaiting a decision on his asylum request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a young man asks, "Why can’t they see that the sky is not the same color for everyone?"

A Jihad for Love is not an easy film to watch. Although many of the subjects’ faces are blurred throughout the film, their stories bear the common threads of exclusion, isolation, condemnation, and persecution. Marriage is a convenient way to stay closeted and remove oneself from further scrutiny. Many of Sharma’s subjects are in transit, or in limbo: awaiting judgement, averting marriage, anticipating punishment of death.

We learn there are sharp contrasts in the way gays are treated among different parts of the Muslim world. A gay Imam can have a radio show in South Africa while in Iran police raid parties of young gay men, make arrests, and imprison them. A lesbian couple feels free to hold hands in public in Turkey, but is afraid to show their faces in Egypt.

In countries where homosexuality is considered an abomination, there are few options for Muslim gays and lesbians: commit suicide, leave their country, or abandon Islam. After watching A Jihad for Love, one wonders why people choose to stay in a faith that condemns their sense of being.

A Jihad for Love is available on DVD April 21. To learn more, visit <www.firstrunfeatures.com/jihadforlove_synopsis.html>.