The film “A Jihad for Love” by American Muslim director Parvez Sharma following gay Muslim men and women in twelve countries, gas won numerous awards, and most recently received the ‘Best Documentary’ award in the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation) awards in March. Sharma traveled through Iran, Egypt, Turkey, India, South Africa, and others – to examine the experiences of being gay and lesbian in an “intensely Muslim community.” He consciously decided against pursuing his project in America or a Western country in which homosexuality has a markedly different experience of acceptability, but cautioned against wanting to save gays and lesbians in predominantly Muslim countries. Sharma found that many are happy where they are, and do not desire asylum, displacement, or change to a different paradigm. “We tend to assume the Western model of this GLBTQ identity. Unless there’s a pride parade you’re not really free. These ideas are way more complicated than that. Sexuality is so complex in Eastern and Islamic cultures,” he says.”
A film by director Parvez Sharma, called A Jihad for Love opened at the IFC Center in New York. The film – a documentary – includes interview subjects as he explores the countless repressed homosexuals in Arab countries, many of whom are considered monsters, and believed to be put to death even by family, friends, and neighbors. Over the course of three years, Sharma amassed approximately 400 hours of footage and interviews. The film mostly presents women and men who are both passionate about their faith, but cannot ignore the fact that their source of love and comfort, of lust and consolation is someone of the same sex. Sharma believes that a minority of extremists, dictating how the Quran is interpreted, and established punishments has hijacked Islam over issues of sexuality.
A fear of misrepresentation and exotification of Muslims has sparked calls for Western filmmakers to halt projects about Islam and Muslims. Filmmakers such as Parvez Sharma and Ruhi Hamid, both cite the heightened interest in Islam post 9/11, and their frustration with stereotyped images, partial representations, and the lack of awareness of the complexities of religion for Muslims. Both Hamid and Sharma have dedicated themselves to representing Muslims and Islam in ways that are not usually known – the socio-cultural contexts of issues, sexuality, and the challenges of being gay and lesbian and practicing Muslims at the same time.