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.