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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Jihad for Love
Directed by Parvaz Sharma
First Run Features 04/09 DVD/VHS Documentary
It is shameful that many conservative Christians, Jews, and Muslims have difficulty finding common ground on issues of faith but are united in their disdain for homosexuality as deviant behavior that is reprehensible to believers and an abomination to God. We have seen this demonstrated in two poignant documentaries: Trembling Before G-d directed by Sandi Dubowski on Jewish Orthodoxy and For the Bible Tells Me So directed by Daniel Karslake on Christian responses to homosexuality. In both of those films, we meet gay individuals who yearn to be accepted within their faith communities but instead are shunned and reviled.
In A Jihad for Love, director Parvez Sharma, a Muslim gay filmmaker, looks at the response of the Muslim community to homosexuality with vignettes about those whose pursuit of love has brought them incredible suffering, pain, loneliness, and anger. Over a six-year period, he filmed in 12 countries. Sharma and Sandi Dubowski are the producers.
There is a widespread misunderstanding of the term Jihad which the media has narrowly defined as holy war. It actually means to struggle or to strive in the path of God. In this documentary, gay and lesbian Muslims struggle to reconcile their sexual orientation to their devotion to Allah and their commitment to their faith tradition.
Meet Muhsin Hendricks, an Islamic scholar and Imam in Johannesburg, South Africa who explains the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah as God's condemnation of rape rather than as a Divine repudiation of male homosexuality. Yet this gay man's interpretation is viewed as heresy by another Muslim authority who says to him: "We consider you a murtad, an apostate, and out of the fold of Islam. Homosexuality is a crime not only in Islam, in every divine religion, and is punishable in Islam by death." Despite this condemnation, Muhsin vows to remain a Muslim and work for reform.
In other countries quotations from the Qur'an and the hadith (sayings) of Muhammad are used to justify the imprisonment, torture, and in some cases, execution of homosexuals. Mazen, an Egyptian, was arrested in a raid of a gay disco and then raped while in prison. He flees to Paris and still follows his Muslim faith. "I'm sure God has a reason for all that has happened to me," he says. "I know that He is always with me."
Maryam, a lesbian living in Paris, tries to keep alive her relationship with Maha who lives in Cairo. There are also some Muslim gay men who have fled Iran and settled in Paris where they hope to gain passage to Canada. It is evident that their life together in a strange land is all that keeps them going. The final section of the film introduces the Sufis, whose mystical understanding and appreciation of Allah's love and mercy is very different from the judging Allah of more orthodox believers.
Parvez Sharma has done a remarkable job conveying the suffering and the struggle of gay Muslims to keep their souls and faith alive in the face of bigotry, repression, hatred, and persecution. This is an important documentary not to be missed.
Special DVD features include "Behind the Scenes"; an interview with director Parvaz Sharma ; and new footage from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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