A Jihad for Love

Parvez Sharma's "A Jihad for Love" looks at the plight of gays still faithful to their Muslim beliefs, even as the majority who share that faith figure it explicitly opposed to homosexuality.

With: Muhsin Hendricks, Mazen, Sana, Mayam, Ferda, Kiymet, Amir, Arsham, Payam, Mojitabn, Ahsan. (English, Arabic, Farsi, Undu, Hindi, Turkish, French dialogue)

Parvez Sharma’s “A Jihad for Love” looks at the plight of gays still faithful to their Muslim beliefs, even as the majority who share that faith figure it explicitly opposed to homosexuality. Predicament makes the pic kin to 2001’s “Trembling Before G-d,” about gay Orthodox Jews. Both docs share the same fascination and limitation. Their subjects’ bravery is impressive, their situation moving, but so few are willing to speak, and the cultures they come from so unwilling to accept them, that a certain repetitiousness soon settles in. Still, this hot-button topic will attract gay fests, select broadcasters and possible limited theatrical exposure.

A single, short passage cited in the Qur’an, along with a few quotes attributed to the prophet Mohammed, qualifies male-male sexual contact as a crime punishable by death in the view of many Islamic scholars. But some call this a distortion, saying the original text in fact referred to rape practiced by residents of ancient Sodom to humiliate visiting foreign men, not to consensual same-sex relations.

Regardless, extreme fundamentalist trends in modern-day Islam make such debates near-impossible to raise in many nations, particularly those in which homosexual acts, socializing or vaguely defined offenses like “debauchery” are criminalized. In Iran, more than 4,000 people have been executed for alleged homosexual acts since the 1979 revolution; other primarily Muslim countries levy fines, whipping, jail time or other punishments, with Turkey being one of the few relatively tolerant exceptions.

Since gay life is principally secretive and underground in the non-Western Muslim world, interviewees here tend to be emigres. Four Iranian men live in Turkey while anxiously awaiting word on whether they will be accepted as political refugees in Canada. They were outed back home when police seized a videotape of a gay wedding ceremony. Mazen was one of the “Cairo 52” arrested in a police raid on the “Queen Boat” gay disco. After spending one year in prison, he fled to Paris when it looked like he’d be handed a second, longer sentence.

Turkish Ferda introduces her girlfriend to her cheerfully accepting mother. But for many others, even exiting the closet in a more liberal adopted country might bring shame and reprisals on family and friends left behind.

Though there are a lot of fogged faces and participants identified only by first name, the pic still doesn’t provide much insight into whatever gay life exists in more repressive societies — emphasis is on those who by choice or necessity have gotten out while retaining their faith. Those stories are compelling, but a more sweeping docu treatment of the subject would be welcome, in the mode of the current gays-and-fundamentalist-Christianity overview, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”

Assembly is pro. Title uses term “jihad” in its more traditional sense of personal religious struggle, as opposed to its current association with “holy war” and extremist acts.

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A Jihad for Love

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Production: A Halal Films production in association with ZDF-Arte, Channel 4, Logo, SBS-Australia, Katahdin Foundation and Realise. Produced by Sandi DuBowski. Executive producers, Michael Huffington, Andrew Herwitz, Linda Saetre, Eileen Opatut, Dave Mace. Directed, written by Parvez Sharma.

Crew: Camera (color, HDcam), Sharma, Berke Bas; editor, Juliet Weber; music, Sussan Deyhim, Richard Horowitz. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 10, 2007. Running time: 81 MIN.

With: With: Muhsin Hendricks, Mazen, Sana, Mayam, Ferda, Kiymet, Amir, Arsham, Payam, Mojitabn, Ahsan. (English, Arabic, Farsi, Undu, Hindi, Turkish, French dialogue)

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