When it comes to Islam, Parvez Sharma warns against the tendency to simplify complex ideas.
A JIHAD FOR LOVE directed by Parvez Sharma. A Mongrel release. 81 minutes. Subtitled. Screens July 18-23 at the Royal. For times, see Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNNN
Parvez Sharma is a believer. And that’s what makes A Jihad For Love and his commentary on current world conditions so intriguing.
In his impressive documentary, queers from many different countries embrace both Islam and their sexuality, and that creates a fascinating tension.
He found his subjects via the Internet and grassroots groups, but he also connected the old-fashioned way.
“This whole idea of gaydar does work everywhere,” he says on the phone from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “It works on the Arab streets as much as it does in Chelsea or on Church Street.”
He says this with a light laugh, but for the most part he’s erudite, passionate and totally serious. The film reflects his determination to embrace the complexities related to Islam’s place in the world, especially nowadays, in the post-9/11 climate, when debate tends to unfold in the most extreme terms.
Don’t make assumptions based on Western media reports, he warns. Think the ayatollahs are gays’ worst enemies? Think again.
“Many of the strongest condemnations of homosexuality have come from secular governments, especially from Mubarek’s government in Egypt,” says the hyper-articulate Sharma. “He’s made a career of suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood but has whipped up the idea of homosexuality as a perversion to curry favour with Muslims in his country.
“Then you have post-revolution Iran, which is a theocracy and has some of the wildest gay parties.”
Americans should not be getting holier-than-thou, even on the woman issue.
“Look at America today. Hillary Clinton couldn’t get past the primary process. Look at Pakistan, where Benazir Bhutto was elected twice. Look at Bangladesh, which elected two women leaders. These are Islamic countries. How many Western countries have women leaders?”
He’s tired of ill-informed critics of Islam. Just listen to what he has to say about Irshad Manji, whose attitudes are the opposite of those his subjects espouse.
“She’s trying to capitalize on the climate of intense Islamophobia post-September 11 in a way that is disrespectful and definitely not based on scholarship or fact. “Islam definitely needs a reform movement, but that needs to come from within and will come from within and is coming from within. When you start attacking a religion from a place of disbelief and anger, you will not achieve victory. The battles for reform within religion are won by believers, not by non-believers. I count myself as a believer, and Irshad has been very public about the fact that she isn’t.”
It was to counter rampant abuse of the term “jihad,” by both Islamic extremists and Islamophobes (the word in Arabic means “struggle”)that Sharma called his movie A Jihad For Love.
“I felt it would be compelling to put the term ‘jihad’ right next to ‘love.’ Sometimes I sneakily stand at the box office (the film’s in release here in the U.S.) and get the greatest satisfaction from hearing an average American audience member say, ‘Two tickets for Jihad, please.’”
The difference between queers in jewish and muslim communities:
Trashing Irshad Manji:
On the difference between Dayee Abduhla, quoted in our Pride Preview, and Imam Mohson, appearing in A Jihad For Love: