A Jihad for Love
A Jihad for Love, 2007, USA/UK/France/Germany/Australia
A Jihad for Love is a documentary about gay and lesbian Muslims living in the middle east, Africa and India. Filmmaker Parvez Sharma interviews a great number of individuals from many different countries. Many of their stories are similar: they’ve faced persecution and even imprisonment. Several were awaiting word on refugee claims.
The documentary examines the idea of Islam and homosexuality co-existing. Many of the participants in the documentary are very religious Muslims, and their perspectives on religion and their sexual orientation were very interesting. One man was an Imam and his take on the story of Sodom and Gomorra differed from the “traditional” interpretation of the story, but his interpretation feels far more accurate to me. Some struggle to reconcile their religion and their sexual orientation. One woman broke my heart when she talked of feeling guilty about being intimate with her partner because she was sinning and deserved to be punished.
Sharma touches on the history of Islam and the different sects of Islam – touching particularly heavily on Sufi Islam. While she didn’t provide a formal definition of Sufism (it was merely stated that it was a popular tradition in Turkey), I looked it up and it’s a branch of Islam that promotes peace, tolerance and rejects violence. A more thorough definition would have been very helpful in the film. Sharma interviews a couple in Turkey who are adherents to that branch of Islam and both women see their love as a gift from God. We’re shown footage of them at their mosque and at a religious celebration, which was quite interesting.
Sharma’s film touches on several very important issues. Gay and lesbian people face tremendous persecution in many countries, and it angers me that religion is used as an excuse to persecute. It’s not just Islam that persecutes in the name of religion, of course; many Christians use their religion to promote their bigoted, disgusting views. Historically, there have been Islamic texts and writers that have celebrated same sex attraction and love. The example given in the film is the poet Shah Hussain, who is celebrated as a saint in Sufi Islam.
One drawback of the film was that it was shot rather poorly. Many shots are not in focus. There was one shot of a man’s Qur’an that lingered for a good five seconds that was blurry and all I could focus on was the fact that the shot was blurry. The gentleman being interviewed had some insightful things to say, but the shot really wrecked that scene. While the focus of the film was not beautiful cinematography, I do think that having clearer, better-framed shots would have helped.
The end product feels incomplete, but that was not Sharma’s fault. Not all of the stories got “closure”, but I imagine the interview subjects were still waiting on closure in their lives when this film was completed. I’ve been doing some research but I haven’t been able to find out what happened to some of the subjects in the film.