Editor's Note: Guest blogger Charles L. Ross is a Fort Lauderdale resident and the Editor and Art Director of the Stonewall Library's publication, Archeion. This is his review of A Jihad for Love. You will find information about the upcoming screening of this movie and a screening of the film Boystown after Chuck's review.
A Jihad for Love, the struggle of Islamic gays
A Jihad for Love opens with a call to prayer. In a voice-over, a man prays to Allah to replace his homosexual desires with love. Fat chance.
The man is no ordinary Muslim. Muhsin Hendricks is an Imam, a religious leader who has studied the Qur'an. "God," he says, "is the center of my life." And he is out gay man. He says he knew he was attracted to boys at age twelve, knew he was different at five. He speaks about his homosexuality on Johannesburg radio. For this, he is vilified for "bringing down the name of Islam." Divorced with three children, he see his life as a jihad, a personal struggle, not a holy war.
He tells another, older holy man that he interprets the Qur'an's story of Sodom and Gomorrah as condemnation of male rape, not of homosexual love. The scholar dismisses this interpretation as semantics, adding that Islam says gays should be stoned to death.
A Jihad for Love was awarded Best Documentary in film festivals in Brazil, Canada, India and Italy. Director Parvez Sharma, a gay Indian Muslim making his debut film, recently told CNN that he made the documentary to "take Islam back from the extremists." Filmed in secret in twelve countries without any government permission, it took six years to complete the documentary, which introduces several gay men and a few lesbians who consider their religious faith as the focus of their existence.
Perhaps focus is the wrong word, since so many of the subjects are shown with computer-blurred faces. After being filmed as a blur, one young Egyptian man, Mazen, finally lets the director photograph his face. In 2001 Mazen was one of the "Cairo 52," men arrested at a gay gathering aboard The Queen Boat on the Nile. He received a three-year prison term but managed to escape to Paris. "God has his reason," he says. Wearing thick eye makeup, he dances at an Arab restaurant in Paris, his tight pants revealing the top of his ass crack.
A Turkish lesbian, Kiymet, is slender, blonde and dressed in Western clothes. Noting that the Qur'an says homosexuals should be lashed, she wonders if she would feel better if she received such punishment. Her fearless girlfriend, Ferda, takes her to meet her mother. Eighty years old, Mama is feisty, glad to see her daughter and makes jokes about love.
An Imam tells a gay man his "disease will go away if God wishes."
A lesbian wearing a hijab, the head-to-toe covering, proclaims, "I only love."
Amir, an Iranian convicted of crimes of "sexual preference, sexual contact, illicit speech, illicit dress, makeup, and mannerism," was sentenced to 100 lashes. The photograph of his red-welted back makes a horror movie look tame. Now an exile in Turkey, Amir awaits word, with three other gay men, whether they will be granted visas to Canada. Only two of them get to start a new life.
Director Sharma does not judge any of these people. He simply presents them. Maybe he wants to make it clear that this is a documentary, not a movie, because there is no attempt to provide an audience-engaging story. No build-up. No climax. If the film had begun with the Iranian exiles awaiting visas, then interspersed the other stories, and ended with the two exiles aboard the flight to Canada, there would have been more tension, greater involvement. But A Jihad for Love simply stops, a voice-over proclaiming God is merciful. A great documentary, a poor movie.
This Thursday, May 14, at 7:00PM at Stonewall Library & Archives is a screening held in conjunction with Fusion@Wilton Manors/Broward County Health Department. The film is A Jihard for Love (2007), a documentary about gay muslims.
On Friday, May 15 at 7:00PM, Stonewall is screening a Spanish film called Boystown. This is a delightful farce with a murderous twist involving turning a neighborhood into a gay mecca. Very dark, very funny.
The Stonewall Library and Archives
1300 Sunrise Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale FL 33304