A Jihad For Love

A Jihad For Love


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Can one be a Muslim and also be gay? That's the question which this groundbreaking documentary confronts, and the very asking of it has resulted in death threats against its director, Parvez Sharma. Yet this is a film that stands out from the crowd not because of its boldness but because of its gentleness, its willingness to take a controversial subject and present it in demystified, human terms.

This is not a film about kidnappings, beatings or stonings to death, though it doesn't shirk from mentioning them. It's not a film that condemns Islam, but one that seeks to explore the complexities of its traditions and to question the assumptions made by many modern scholars. Its subjects are all believers themselves, and, rather than finding themselves torn between their faith and their desires, many remark that it is their faith in Allah that has sustained them when they have had to deal with human prejudice. It's rare to see a film made from a religious point of view and handled with such sensitivity and insight. It's also rare to encounter a documentary like this that speaks with a Muslim voice.

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The lack of drama in this film gives it a wholly different tone to that of most modern documentaries. In presenting us with people who have very ordinary concerns - exiles missing their families, groups of friends sad at being separated, a middle aged Turkish woman introducing her girlfriend to her mother - it normalises its subjects and makes them easier to identify with, no matter who the viewer is. It includes subjects who are not comfortable with their sexuality and pray to Allah to make them heterosexual, but in doing so it never comes across as endorsing homophobia; it simply provides an outlet for their stories and provides a more complete picture of a complex world.

Though it becomes repetitive in places as it tells its various stories, the thoroughness of this film is impressive, and Sharma has managed to find a wide range of interesting people. Sadly, some have chosen to appear with their faces blurred out, as they're fearful of attacks upon themselves or their families, but others are willing to take the chance. In its quiet way, the film creates a feeling of building momentum, of a great change about to occur.

There is a strong tradition in Islam which says that one should never try to convert others to one's own way of seeing things; rather, one should aim to lead an exemplary life, that others may learn by observation. The deep and conscientious faith of this film's subjects sets a powerful example.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2009
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Gay and lesbian Muslims speak out about their struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.

Director: Parvez Sharma

Year: 2007

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US, UK, France, Germany, Australia


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