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n a time, when Islam is under tremendous attack-from within and without-'A Jihadfor Love' is a daring documentary-filmed in twelve countries and nine languages. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma has gone where the silence is strongest, filming with great risk in nations where government permission to make this film was not an option. A Jihad for Love is the first-ever feature-length documentary to explore the complex global intersections of Islam and homosexuality. With unprecedented access and depth, Sharma brings to light the hidden lives of gay and lesbian Muslims from countries like Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, France, India, and South Africa. The majority of gay and lesbian Muslims must travel a lonely and often dangerous road. In many nations with a Muslim majority, laws based on Quranic interpretations are enforced by authorities to monitor, entrap, imprison, torture and even execute homosexuals. Even for those who migrate to Europe or North America and adopt Western ... Written by
Director Parvez Sharma himself wrote the detailed plot outline here at IMDb about this documentary on gay and lesbian Muslims struggling to reconcile their religious faith and their homosexuality in the homophobic Islamic world. Most of the interviewees are outcast, exiled men and women leading secretive, guilt-ridden and sometimes even sexless lives away from their native countries, family and culture. Some have escaped prison or execution, but continue to be segregated in their exile, this time not because of their sexual orientation but for their Muslim faith or ethnic background.
In one of the film's most shocking scenes (for a non-religious person like myself), an outcast South African gay Muslim scholar politely confronts an imam, stating that the Qur'an lines that rule homosexuality as an aberration (similar to what the Old Testament says) is a problem of translation and interpretation, since the original Qur'an verse condemned male rape, not gay sex. The imam bluntly responds that the issue is not open to ANY interpretation; what CAN be open to interpretation, says the imam, is the punishment to be applied to homosexuals: stoning, whipping, imprisonment, death, etc.
The people in this film are dreaming very simple dreams: to be able to live in their native countries, near their families, to cherish their cultural background (of which religion is a big, big part), and to be granted the basic universal right to have a sexual and love life without fear of being humiliated, imprisoned or assassinated. "A Jihad for Love" tries to clarify the notion that it's not the fundamentals of Islam that reject and condemn gays, but the men who control the interpretation of sacred texts: the religious bosses who, in those countries, are also the political bosses.
A kin film to Sandi Dobowski's "Trembling Before G-d" (which covered similar ground within orthodox Jewish communities), "Jihad" is of course urgent and important. Yet it lacks cinematic lure, not only technically (it's visually very poor), but also because it's more of a journalist's piece than an elaboration on the theme. "Jihad" can't help being a little repetitive -- most of the interviewees' stories are very much alike, most of them can't show their faces -- and incomplete -- most of them seem reluctant or frightened to tell their full stories and even their real names for fear of retaliation.
As most non-orthodox gay Catholics, Protestants and Jews have learned in the last 100 years -- through generations of courageous men, women and organizations, and with many casualties along the way -- it's only possible to be religious AND gay in a lay state, where law and religion are independent, where religious faith is an individual right and not a public dogma. There will always be prejudice against gays in every society (gays will always be minorities), so it's the changes in the legal system - - the right of gays to freely express and exert their sexuality and the possibility of legal punishment for sexist behavior -- that will gradually force non-gays to accept the fact that gays are their equals.
Though the film tries to instill the hope that Islam will eventually soften its heart and tolerate gays, reality shows us, sadly, very much the opposite: that intolerance against any type of minority (sexual, racial, religious) grows rougher and stronger every day in all cultures where orthodox monotheist religions thrive. And that the only possible choices left for Muslim gays and lesbians, right now, are -- tragically, inconceivably -- either the closet, exile or self-denial, with punishments varying from humiliation, self-repression, sexless lives, emotional and psychological ravaging to physical torture, imprisonment, death. Foucault knew what he was talking about.
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