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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Village Voice Review of A Jihad for Love

Click on the article for a close-up shot of the review.

THE VILLAGE VOICE – May 21st, 2008

indieWIRE review | Irreconcilable Differences: Parvez Sharma's "A Jihad for Love"

REVIEW | Irreconcilable Differences: Parvez Sharma's "A Jihad for Love"

by Michael Koresky (May 21, 2008)

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]
Homosexuality isn't a choice, but often, many forget, neither is religion. And this is certainly the case for the world's dense population of devout Muslims, now comprising the second largest religion in the world. Since the dictates of various orthodoxies seem almost by design to painfully rub up against basic biological desires, the demonization of sexuality has been widely reported upon and dramatized, whether directly or indirectly, for as long as there has been sophisticated thought.

Though the most blatant and rigorous denial of carnal desire is extended, as ever, to homosexuality, only in recent years have we been granted the courtesy of fine documentaries such as Sandi DuBowski's "Trembling Before G-D" and Daniel Karslake's "For the Bible Tells Me So," primers on the eternal battle of conscience and love waged in the minds of gay individuals for whom abandoning faith-based communities is not an option. For them, the need to touch another human body does not preclude the desire to be close to God; of course, in dealing with a handful of extreme, sexually repressive Islamic societies, Parvez Sharma's passionate, yet reserved new documentary "A Jihad for Love" can't help but seem even more urgent.

Sharma, a gay writer, reporter, and filmmaker born in India, is himself a Muslim, and his lack of condescension toward the religious communities he captures on film is "A Jihad for Love"'s greatest strength. Sharma excels at depicting the effects of repressive regimes on individuals in a matter-of-fact manner, without the aid of overly cute populist doc tricks or direct audience appeals; one comes away with the sense that Islamic governmental law based on religion isn't so different from nonsecular Westernized rationalizations for discrimination.

Indeed, there's a terrific scene in which Muhsin Hendricks, an Islamic scholar and Imam in Johannesburg, questions the very existence of any sort of anti-homosexual decree in the Quran, citing the Old Testament tale of Sodom and Gomorrah as the most oft misconstrued passage of all, in which God's condemnation of rape has been twisted to include all forms of male-male love. It happens to be the same argument made by Western scholars in Karslake's film, and though it's been used in such nations as Saudi Arabia and Iran as the base rationale for government-sanctioned punishment and execution, it unites religious intolerance in harmonious discord.

Despite the instructive necessity of scenes like these, it's "A Jihad for Love"'s focus on the personal conflicts, tortures, and everyday quandaries of articulate, desperate people like Hendricks that truly ennoble the film. "Help us remove this desire and replace it with love," a praying woman is heard saying at the beginning of the film, and it's a stunning phrase, heartbreaking in the fact of its irreconcilability, which defines all of the film's principal subjects. Some show their faces and some do not, yet when they have chosen not to Sharma heightens their abstraction to both humane and artistically valid ends -- the closeness of human bonds and the rights of two people to lovingly touch one another are impossible to misrepresent.

The decision for some -- like Amir, an Iranian seeking asylum and living as a refugee in Turkey with other young, ostracized gay men in one cramped room, or Maryam and Maha, a Moroccan and Egyptian lesbian couple -- to not show their face on-camera does not make them any less brave than those who do, including middle-aged Sufi lesbian couple Ferda and Kiymet, living in the more sexually permissible Istanbul, and the Egyptian Mazen, who had been imprisoned and tortured as one of the "Cairo 52," men rounded up from a gay club, before remaking his life in Paris.

Yet when Mazen calls home to his mother, invoking Allah with reverence, Sharma's film reinforces the fact that complete escape is not only impossible, but in many cases, unwanted. "A Jihad for Love" depicts those who do not reject their faith but must also choose survival. The movie isn't perfect -- even for an eighty-minute film shot in twelve countries and following at least eight principal personages there's a bit of narrative filler, including Ferda and Kiymet's rambling conversation about the presumed sexuality of a parrot, and too often Sharma relies on an overly familiar slow-mo-imagery-and-melismatic vocals to string together scenes. But as a document of testimonials from those who otherwise dare not speak, and for whom being gay is like being born, inextricably, into the lowest possible caste, "A Jihad for Love" is invaluable.

[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]

New York Sun Review of a Jihad for Love

From the New York Sun

Gay Muslims Fight Uphill Battle at Home

Movies  |  Review of: A Jihad for Love


May 21, 2008
If heterosexual, non-Muslim Americans were, until recently, mostly unaware of the prevalence and intolerance of homosexuality in the Middle East, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably cleared up some confusion when he visited Columbia University last year. Speaking on the subject, Mr. Ahmadinejad said: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon."

Such a laughable comment helped bring the issue of gays in the Muslim world into stark relief. It also helps us to understand the considerable dangers facing director Parvez Sharma — not to mention his interview subjects — as he set out to make a documentary about the countless repressed homosexuals in Arab nations, many of whom are considered monsters who should be put to death by their families, friends, and neighbors. During the course of three years, Mr. Sharma amassed about 400 hours of footage with various subjects, distorting most of their faces with gray blots for fear of violent reprisal.

 From the outset, Mr. Sharma's "A Jihad for Love," which opens today at IFC Center, makes one thing clear: It is not, as some might expect, a story of alienation. Unlike other recent documentaries that have tackled religious and moralistic themes — such as Tony Kaye's "Lake of Fire," which lent a soapbox to every side of the abortion debate — "A Jihad for Love" is not about irreconcilable differences or two groups that regard each other with disdain.

Mostly, the film presents men and women who are passionate about their faith, who have tried to live life as prescribed by their parents and spiritual leaders, but who cannot ignore the fact that their source of love and comfort, of lust and consolation, is a person of the same sex. Their story is not one of alienation, but of determined reconciliation.

Mr. Sharma has said repeatedly in interviews that he believes Islam has been "hijacked" by a minority of extremists who have dictated to believers how the Koran is to be interpreted, and who have established an array of punishments incorporating physical violence and social ostracism. In several scenes, we see the ways in which homosexuals try to wrestle the interpretation of their holy book back from the extremists.

They point, for example, to the brief passage about the ancient town of Sodom, where foreign men were raped by local men, arguing that the condemned act is not consensual sex between two men, but the forceful rape of another.

Whatever the argument, there's no denying that these couples are fighting an uphill battle. Early in the film, Mr. Sharma plays a radio talk show concerning gay culture, and we listen as caller after caller demands death for every gay man and woman.

Similar stories of threats and intimidation — even from one's own family — spring up throughout the film. As Mr. Sharma keeps crossing borders to talk to his subjects, it becomes clear that most have had to flee their homelands, seeking the artificial amnesty of anonymity in foreign communities. One man speaks happily about his marriage to his male partner, but turns sober when describing what happened when the filmed footage of the wedding became public. Another deeply conflicted man phones his mother, devastated in his state of exile, but relieved finally to have an apartment of his own and eager to start a new life. It's this back-and-forth that makes "A Jihad for Love" both haunting and inspiring as it chronicles the horror stories even as these devout Muslims refuse to abandon their religion.

There's an inherent limitation to "A Jihad for Love" — a title that Mr. Sharma says uses the traditional definition of "jihad," which is not "holy war," but that of a personal religious struggle. With so many interview subjects fearing for their safety and living abroad, he is primarily interviewing anonymous sources in anonymous lands. As such, there is a glass ceiling to what the film, wrapped in secrecy, can capture. For the time being, though, it is a passionate, essential first step — an attempt to cut through the rhetoric spouted by the likes of Mr. Ahmadinejad and expose the plight of a severely underappreciated stratum of the Muslim world.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Islam 'Recognizes Homosexuality'

Islam 'recognizes homosexuality'

Abdul Khalik , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 03/28/2008 1:38 AM |

Homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus
permissible within Islam, a discussion concluded here Thursday.

Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject
homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and
homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on
narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace
cited the Koran's al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for
human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of
ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

"There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes
of God, people are valued based on their piety," she told the
discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi.

"And talking about piety is God's prerogative to judge," she added.
"The essence of the religion (Islam) is to humanize humans, respect
and dignify them." Musdah said homosexuality was from God and should
be considered natural, adding it was not pushed only by passion. Mata
Air magazine managing editor Soffa Ihsan said Islam's acknowledgement
of heterogeneity should also include homosexuality.

He said Muslims needed to continue to embrace ijtihad (the process of
making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Koran and
the Sunnah) to avoid being stuck in the old paradigm without
developing open-minded interpretations.

Another speaker at the discussion, Nurofiah of the Nahdlatul Ulama
(NU), said the dominant notion of heterogeneity was a social
construction, leading to the banning of homosexuality by the majority.

"Like gender bias or patriarchy, heterogeneity bias is socially
constructed. It would be totally different if the ruling group was
homosexuals, " she said.

Other speakers said the magnificence of Islam was that it could be
blended and integrated into local culture. "In fact, Indonesia's
culture has accepted homosexuality. The homosexual group in
Bugis-Makassar tradition called Bissu is respected and given a high
position in the kingdom.

"Also, we know that in Ponorogo (East Java) there has been
acknowledgement of homosexuality, " Arus Pelangi head Rido Triawan said.

Condemnation of homosexuality was voiced by two conservative Muslim
groups, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Hizbut Thahir Indonesia

"It's a sin. We will not consider homosexuals an enemy, but we will
make them aware that what they are doing is wrong," MUI deputy
chairman Amir Syarifuddin said.

Rokhmat, of the hardline HTI, several times asked homosexual
participants in attendance to repent and force themselves to gradually
return to the right path.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)