A Jihad for Love (2008)
Critic Consensus: This powerful documentary explores an important subject -- homosexuality in the Muslim world -- with humanity and courage.
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Critic Reviews for A Jihad for Love
Covering more than half a dozen countries, Sharma stretches himself too thin, and as a result the documentary seems sketchy; he would have done well to present on-screen some of the background information in his production notes.
For all the research, courage and passion that went into it, the movie is sometimes curiously one-note.
[Director Sharma's] focus on religion and this particular religion's all but certain hostility to same-sex love means there can be no answers to the spiritual searching of many of his characters.
Often fascinating and provocative, although, as a film, it feels a bit long and somewhat repetitive.
A Jihad for Love is a courageous documentary on the plight of gays in the Muslim world, and it reveals how the devout attempt to reconcile their sexual orientation and their faith.
Audience Reviews for A Jihad for Love
[size=3]"A Jihad for Love" is an ultra-conventional documentary, but its subject matter makes it world-historic and worth seeing. It is an examination of homophobia in the Muslim world and the fledgling resistance movement that is building to challenge it. If you're seeking profiles in courage, look no further than "Jihad for Love."[/size]
[size=3]In most Muslim societies (but not all) gays and lesbians face ferocious persecution and even execution. Many people featured in the film were so frightened of retribution directed at their families that they would only appear on camera if the director promised to blur their faces. When they appear in the film, you just see foggy clouds where their faces should be. "Jihad for Love" contains more obscured faces than any documentary in cinema history, a disturbing visual indication of the terrible oppression these men and women face.[/size]
[size=3]The photo above provides an example of the blurring. Notice that there are four men in the shot, but two are obscured. These four men, incidentally, are gay Iranians that fled their country after they were arrested at a gay party in Shiraz, a city in southern Iran. Two ended up getting asylum in Canada. The fate of the other two was uncertain at the time the film was completed. [/size]
[size=3]The fact that this film was made at all (and got a distribution deal) truly is a miracle. Indian-born Muslim filmmaker [b]Parvez Sharma[/b] and his American producer [b]Michael Huffington[/b] deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. [/size]
[size=3]"Jihad," it is made clear in the film, does not mean holy war, or war of any kind. It means struggle. By depicting the gay movement as a jihad, the film is not for a second suggesting that gays pick up AK-47s. It suggests that gays, lesbians and their supporters should pick up movie cameras, write books and newspaper articles, and generally tell the truth of their experience. (I might encourage them to pick up AK-47s, but that's me.)
[size=3]"Jihad for Love" is constructed in a highly conventional manner, which is quite disappointing. I'm amazed at the colossal lack of cinematic creativity on the part of most documentary filmmakers today. But the sweep of the film is truly extraordinary. Sharma took a film crew to many different countries and somehow found a substantial number of gay Muslims willing to speak. I can't imagine how he did it. The film starts in South Africa, then moves to Eqypt, France, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and India. [/size][size=3]Sharma took great personal risks by filming in some of these countries.[/size]
[size=3]Several fascinating patterns emerge from the interviews. First is deep religiosity. Everyone interviewed was very deeply religious; moreover, they felt strongly that God was on their side. Only one doubted which side God was on. She at one point even suggested that she deserved to be lashed the way gay men sometimes were. She felt punishment might help her find her way out of homosexuality! She even said this in front of her girlfriend, which was highly bizarre.[/size]
[size=3]But she radically differed from the others in the film, who were completely certain that God smiled upon them. Their battle is with conservative Muslims. They believe firmly that conservatives [i]incorrectly[/i] interpret the Quran and misunderstand the spirit of Islam. Below a gay Muslim (left) has a respectful but pointed discussion with a conservative clergyman about the Quran and the few times homosexuality is mentioned in it. (The Quran's proscriptions are like those found in the Leviticus section of the Jewish holy book.)[/size]
[size=3]This deep religiosity represents a phenomenal difference from the Western experience, where the gay/lesbian movement was founded overwhelmingly by atheists and agnostics. For the past 50 years it's been almost impossible to find gay and lesbian activists in America or Europe who adhered to any of the Judaic-based faiths. [/size]
[size=3]This has been changing recently because certain denominations within Judaism and Christianity have begun to reject hetero-supremacism, But this is very new. Basically the heritage of the Western gay movement has been ultra-hostile to religion, especially Christianity. When I came out of the closet as gay, for example, I thought Christianity was a cancerous, anti-human institution that had to be destroyed. Among gays, this was the dominant viewpoint. (I no longer think this about Christianity, incidentally.) [/size][size=3]One thing is for sure, gay Muslims are most definitely not breaking from Islam. They are deeply devout and feel their place is in the mosque.[/size]
[size=3]Another pattern that emerges from the interviews is the tremendously deep, even a bit pathological, bond between sons and mothers. Almost every gay man in the film has a scene where he talks to his mother on the phone and cries his eyes out. It happened so many times that it started to become a bit comical. Even one of the lesbians has a scene with her mother. But happily, she doesn't cry.[/size]
[size=3]Not once did any gay or lesbian even mention their father. Not once during these phone conversations did the father come to the phone. Not once did the gay person even indicate that he/ she had a father. Is this a coincidence, or is there something very disturbing about the irresponsibility of fathers in the Muslim world? I was also slightly disturbed by the deep bonds between mother and son. I'm not sure it's healthy for sons to be that wrapped up in their mothers.[/size]
[size=3]I'm not surprised that an emigre would have teary phone conversations with family and friends, but with the gay men it was only their mothers. Over and over and over. They never talked to anyone else on the phone. It almost seemed to buttress the classic Freudian theory that boys with excessive attachments to their mothers and emotionally distant fathers tend to become gay. It was an awkward subtext to this otherwise politically focused film.[/size]
What unites the conservative elements of otherwise disparate religions is a hatred of gays and lesbians. The heartfelt and enlightening documentary "A Jihad for Love" takes this topic from a Muslim point of view. From South Africa to France to Iran to Turkey to Pakistan, gays and lesbians share their experiences. Some participants are courageous enough to have their faces revealed while others are more cautious.
As depicted in the film, Islam is more diverse than usually perceived, as the interpretation of sacred texts is up for debate. For example, the only relevant phrases from the Koran come up in the context of Sodom and Gomorrah, and as a gay imam puts it, the crimes committed there were rape, not consensual by any means.(The jihad in the title of the film is not here meant as it is usually thought of as a holy war, but as a struggle.) Another text forbids lesbianism but the worst punishment is a scolding. In some Muslim countries like Iran and Egypt, homosexuality is illegal and punishments vary but can include execution, causing Muslim gays and lesbians to live abroad as exiles. Turkey is Muslim, yet secular, and has no laws against homosexuality while Pakistan and India have rarely enforced statutes inherited from colonial England.
A lightweight documentary on treatments of homosexuality in the Muslim world. Unfortunately the individuals interviewed didn't add the gravity to this situation which it deserved.
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