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12 Aug 2009

'A Jihad for Love' shown on Indian TV network and website

A Jihad for Love - which Singapore censors say is too controversial to be shown at the country's international film festival last year - was broadcast to potentially more than a billion in India and other countries by India’s NDTV.

A Jihad for Love - the highly controversial and high profile documentary about Islam and homosexuality – was shown on India-based NDTV network in two parts over the Aug 1-2 and Aug 8-9 weekends.

Top: Filmmaker Parvez Sharma
The world's first feature-length film, which shows gay and lesbian Muslims speaking about their faith and sexuality, made the headlines in 2007 when it was first released.

The film was made over five years and in nine languages by India-born and raised director Parvez Sharma who travelled the world from India to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and France to interview devout Muslims who are lesbian, gay or transgender to speak about their faith and their sexuality. In the film, a gay South African imam argues that homosexuality is not banned while another imam rebuts his view.

A Jihad for Love was banned from the Singapore International Film Festival in 2008 by the Media Development Authority, which oversees the censorship board, “in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle." About 14 percent of Singapore's 4.4 million population is Muslim. The film was shown in film festivals in Hong Kong, Tokyo and in Jakarta, Indonesia at the recently concluded Q Film Festival.

According to traditional interpretations of the Quran, homosexuality is strictly forbidden and officially carries the death penalty in some Muslim or Muslim dominant countries including Iran, Saudi-Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria.

NDTV’s broadcast has in effect made the film available to over one billion viewers in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the UAE, and large portions of the Middle East and Africa – many of which continue to experience tension along religious lines.

Sharma has praised the NDTV for taking the “bold and courageous step” to broadcast the film “in a time when India's draconian Section 377 of the penal code that makes homosexuality illegal has been successfully challenged in the Delhi High Court.”

“[The court’s decision] will probably lead to a historic shift not just in India but also in all nations that have similar penal codes (including Pakistan and Bangladesh). This broadcast which has already generated a storm in the media in India and elsewhere will help activists across the region,” said the 35-year-old director , who is Muslim and describes himself as a "defender of the faith," in an email informing activists and friends around the world about the broadcast.

Originally titled In the Name of Allah, the title was changed to "reclaim the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad."

The film's web site explains: "In Western media, the concept of 'jihad' is often narrowly equated with holy war. But Jihad also has a deeper meaning, its literal Arabic being 'struggle' or 'to strive in the path of God.'"

"The people in this film have a lot to teach us about love. Their pursuit of love has brought them into conflicts with their countries, families, and even themselves."

He told Fridae in an interview last year that the film is an "opportunity to have Islam's story be told by its most unlikely storytellers and that was gay and lesbian Muslims."

Watch A Jihad for Love in its entirety on NDTV’s web site NDTV.com

Extracts from Parvez Sharma’s live chat hosted by NDTV on Aug 9, a transcript of which (sans abusive comments) can be viewed on the filmmaker’s blog at ajihadforlove.blogspot.com:

What he considers to be the heart of the film
For me the gay Imam in South Africa with the three children was the most intellectually engaging. However the two women you see in Egypt were the most compelling (Maryam and Maha) because their struggle was just so impossible-Maryam in fact said repeatedly that in order to feel that she was a good Muslim she felt she needed to be punished. That was tragic and also at the very heart of the film.

Growing up gay in India
In some ways it took a lifetime, of trying and understanding parts of my faith and parts of my mixed heritage and my own sexuality. And in reality I started filming in 2002 right after September 11. I don’t live in India anymore, but I do feel it is easier to be gay in India today. I came out at a young age when I was in India, but at that time not many people were able to do so. However strong cultural and religious barriers remain. And isn’t it interesting to see right wing Hindus and Muslims speak in the same voice to condemn the Section 377 ruling? I always say-nothing unites Hindus, Muslims and Jews more than their fear of homosexuality!

What he would have done differently
Most filmmakers will look at their work in critical ways and I am no exception ;-) If I was to do the film again I would have done the parts in Iran completely differently and perhaps I would also have let some of my current pessimism shine through a bit more. Because now, after a year of traveling I do not think that there can be a Quranic or theological "solution" to the "problem" of homosexuality (please do note the quotes) that is acceptable to one billion plus Muslims. I also do not think that any religion is going to be "comfortable" with homosexuality in any of our lifetimes.

Reclaiming ‘Jihad’ as a Muslim
Nothing has given me greater pleasure than seeing Western audiences go up to the box office here in the US for example (the film was released in theaters across the country) and say "Can I have two tickets for Jihad please?" This is why I chose the title. To take the discussion of Islam away from just violence. To reclaim some of the true meanings of words that we have been taught to forget and that includes Jihad which really means an inner struggle (Nafs) to be a better Muslim. And to put Jihad and Love right next to each other is a powerful statement for a powerful film. 

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-08-12 23:25  
So happy to know that some progress is being made, even if it's 'just' a broadcast. :)
2. 2009-08-13 07:49  
Censorship has the effect of creating more interest in, and publicity for, the banned film. And it certainly does not help to develop the media industry.
Comment edited on 2009-08-13 22:23:01
3. 2009-08-13 09:44  
I may not agree with the statement of the movie, but sure. Go ahead and show it.

Jihad basically means to struggle. So if people wish to struggle to change or reinterpret 2000 years of religious conception that has existed without challenge, then good luck to them.

Personally, I'd take my chances with politics over religion. Politics takes decades to change. Religions take centuries.
Comment #4 was deleted by its author on 2009-08-14 10:24
5. 2009-08-16 19:10  
Great points raised, aput. Some might find yr views cynical, bt I think you are being honest with the reality of the situation. :)
6. 2009-08-17 16:55  
Politics or relligions, everywhere we see people, especially those of influential power and status, using in names to enforce what they believe onto others; the ignorance, the weak and the minorities. Else you are marginalized or even prosecuted, just like the Nazi to the Jewish.... sad isnt it.
7. 2009-08-18 17:52  
Finally, the long awaited film in its full glory. MDA and MUIS may have their own conservative mindsets and view over the screening of the film which left alot of people disappointed. The talk of a globalized city coupled with impulse banning of good creative content creates a firewall for progression. It is definitely a struggle to love someone so deeply of the same sex whereby in the end, I'd ask myself this question, "Do I love her more or do I love God more?"... Which is why I hope this film will shed some light on how to put an answer into practice. Thanks fridae for posting the link. Very very much appreciated. :)
8. 2009-10-06 14:47  
The screening of this award-winning documentary is the finale and highlight of the Freedom Film Fest at the Annexe gallery in KL Oct 4, 2009. I actually missed the premiere at the Cape Town lesbian and gay film fest in 2007 where filmmaker Parvez Sharma personally introduced the film to a sold out audience (I was too late for a ticket). However, two years later the film made its way to Malaysia where I thought it would never be screened, after making its appearances in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Jakarta and India. This time I made sure I watch it. The hall of the gallery was packed to the brim with standing room only. The film was powerful and moving, and views and comments were generated immediately after the screening among the audience, which was made up of a majority of LGBT folks and their straight allies.

I am particularly impacted by the story of Imam Muhsin Hendricks of Cape Town, SA. Imam Muhsin’s statement struck me profoundy when he said that the only room gay Muslims can find in Islam is “independent reasoning.” He takes a different view on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, seeing it as a divine judgment on male to male rape and violence rather than homosexuality between lovers. I thought Muhsin’s position is precisely what progressive gay Christians like me share in reading the holy writings with an independent and critical eye. Muslims and Christians can only find common ground through a non-traditional reading of their own scripture. Religion divides but spirituality unites. I stand in solidarity with my gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters in Islam. Perhaps what makes it so powerful is that the persecuted continue to practice their faith and hold on to Allah’s mercy and grace to sustain them. The film brings home the point that one can be a practicing homosexual and a practicing Muslim (or Christian for that matter) at the same time. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive or in conflict with each other.

Islam, as well as Christianity, is a religion of compassion. The film powerfully appeals to reason and compassion on the part of religious clerics in dealing with the homosexual person of faith. The story of Lot should rightly be interpreted as a divine judgment on the inhospitality and violence of the twin cities toward the weak and vulnerable in their midst. It is an irony that the very sin condemned by the scripture is being perpetrated today in the persecution of a vulnerable sexual minority by a homophobic majority who has completely missed the point of that ancient story. How sad! It is about time the true reading of the text was reclaimed and returned to our generation. Social justice and equality is the way forward in the 21st century!

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