A Jihad for Love (First Run Features, NR)

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A Jihad for Love is the first feature-length documentary to look at homosexuality and Islam, and for that reason alone it's an important film. Director Parvez Sharma spent five years interviewing gay and lesbian Muslims in 12 different countries, from Iran to South Africa to India, documenting the jihad, or struggle, they have undergone to reconcile their homosexuality with their religion. Not surprisingly, many of the interviews were shot surreptitiously and the subjects are only shown in shadow or with their images blurred, as revealing their sexual orientation could place them in serious danger.

As is the case with Christianity and Judaism, the official position in the Islamic scriptures with regard to homosexual behavior is open to interpretation. An early screen card informs us that the only verses in the Koran which refer to homosexuality do so in reference to the Nation of Lot and to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that homosexuality is also mentioned in several hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammed). On this slender evidence some religious scholars find justification in condemning homosexuality as a crime punishable by death.

Secular authorities in some Islamic countries also define homosexuality or homosexual behavior as a crime (as is also the case in some Christian countries). One Egyptian man tells of his arrest and imprisonment as one of the "Cairo 52," a group of men convicted of offenses such as "habitual debauchery" and "contempt for religion" for the crime of partying on a floating gay nightclub called The Queen Boat.

Of course, not all Moslem countries have such laws; as a counter-example, Sharma offers two lesbians in Turkey, a country whose population is almost entirely Moslem but which has a secular government and no laws forbidding same-sex intercourse. One of the extras on the DVD is an interview with transsexual in Istanbul whose friends and family accept him as a female (and who ironically decides after filming is complete to resume life as a man—but it's a credit to his country that he enjoys that freedom). Neither do all followers of Islam condemn homosexuality; the Sufi holiday of URS celebrates the love of two men, the Sufi mystic Shah Husain and the Hindu Madho Lal.

A Jihad for Love shares many of the strengths as weakness of Trembling before G_d, which looked at the conflict between homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism. Perhaps not coincidentally, the director of that film, Sandi Simcha Dubowski, is the producer of A Jihad for Love. The two films also share a similar promotional approach which emphasizes their educational value and importance in opening up discussion on taboo subjects. Neither benefit can be denied; there is to my knowledge no other film which broaches the subject of homosexuality in Islam to the extent of A Jihad for Love, and no film better suited to educational screenings and discussions on that subject.

However, the film still has major flaws which make one hope that a sequel is in the works. The choice to construct A Jihad for Love out of interview segments, many shot with a handheld camera and without showing the subject's faces, results in a static film which takes a long time to make the same points over and over. It would have been useful to present more scholarly opinion on the attitude of Islam to homosexuality over the years, and to dig deeper when considering the reasons for the prohibitions. One obvious point which is little explored: Many repressive societies try to regulate sexual behavior and find justification in their religious scriptures for doing so, although they don't all cite the same scriptures. What is it about repressing sexuality which appeals to this type of society? | Sarah Boslaugh

The DVD of A Jihad for Love includes seven additional video segments: a statement by the director; a snippet of a call-in show on a Muslim radio station in South Africa; a question-and-answer session from the Toronto Film Festival; and additional interviews. A Jihad for Love is distributed on DVD by First Run Features. Further information, including the film's trailer, is available from the company website.

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