PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

A Jihad for Love

Parvez Sharma's documentary, A Jihad for Love, traces heartening, harrowing stories of Muslim gay men and lesbians.


A Jihad for Love

Director: Parvez Sharma
Cast: Muhsin Hendricks, A.K. Hoosen, Mazen, Abdellah Taia, Sana
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: First Run Features
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2008-05-21 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
Why do they think the sky has to be the same color for everyone?

-- Ashram

"I was virtually born in a mosque," says Muhsin Hendricks says. The son of an Imam, he adds, "It was only at the age of about 16 that I decided there was something wrong with me, that I'm not like other boys." When he was 20, Mushin recalls, he went to Pakistan to study Islam, read about Sodom and Gomorrah, and began feeling guilty. "At that time," Mushin says, "I thought, 'Okay, this is it. This is what God thinks of me, so why am I still adhering to Islam when there's no space for me?'"

Muhsin's search for some space within Islam is one of several such stories in Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love. A gay man living in South Africa, he faces all manner of resistance, prejudice, and oppression. And yet he has hope: by film's end he is asked to return to the Muslim community that has rejected him, in order to help them understand him -- to bridge gaps between straight and gay individuals, to reconcile his faith with his desire. Muhsin's example is heartening and also disturbing When he visits with his children (he and his wife have long since split), they spend sweet time together, laughing at penguins and obviously comfortable with each other.

When, however, Muhsin poses a hypothetical question -- what would you do if the police dragged daddy off and threatened to stone him to death? -- one child (his face blurred into protective anonymity) has a chilling answer: "I would look them in the eye and say, 'Oh don't let my daddy feel this. And just let him die one time with the first stone." Muhsin protests, half-laughing, until another child assures him that she would save him.

As sweet as this exchange becomes, the moment also reveals a tension particular to being Muslim and being gay. Though the adherence to laws and assumptions varies -- not every Muslim believes, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserts, that homosexuals do not exist in his world -- acknowledgment and tolerance are hard won. "I think my personal story is a love jihad," says Muhsin, "It's a struggle and that's what the word jihad is about."

The documentary illustrates with diverse experiences. Four Iranian refugees spend long weeks and months in Turkey, having left their homes in fear, having applied for asylum with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Their lives in Turkey, a secular Muslim state, are less dangerous per se (Istanbul, the film notes, "has no laws against same sex intercourse"), but also unmoored.

Ashram describes his previous life poetically and acutely: "It's hard to be homosexual in Iran," he says sadly. "It's like a person who wants to speak, but when he opens his mouth, the words are caught in his throat. His cry has been suppressed. It's a heavy silence." While he and his friends allow Sharma to film them in their one-room apartment, on the sidewalk, and in a local park, two of them are afraid to show their faces, worried for their families back in Iran ("My life is in Iran," mourns Mojtada, the camera so close on his eyes that he's unrecognizable. "I miss everything, I left to save my life"). When Payam's call to his mother brings tears to his eyes, Ashram pats him reassuringly. "I'll be your mother," he smiles. Payam watches kids playing soccer. "Islam and homosexuality do not merge very well," he sighs, "It will take a jihad and probably longer than my own lifetime."

Other figures in the film have found a way to live with less pain and more pleasure. Ferda and her girlfriend Kiymet share an apartment, a cat, and a life. Ferda remembers a difficult earlier existence, when she was forced to marry and become pregnant, despite a doctor's warning against it. "Pain, pain, constant pain," she says. "Women like us are captives in another life. We are prisoners." Now, however, she feels connected, safe, and freed. She and Kiymet visit with Ferda's mother, the women's faces warm with smiles and shared energies. The couple also brings the film crew along to a thrilling demonstration of Sufi ritual dancing. "Islam is a religion of peace," reminds Ferda, "But we can only understand this by understanding Sufism, not by how some people interpret Islam."

Mazen’s interpretation is at once courageous and inspiring. Imprisoned in Egypt for three years, he now lives in Paris, where the film watches him watching video footage of himself in a cage, his face covered by a white mask. "I was raped in prison," he remembers, "It was extremely traumatic, it hurts even to talk about it."

Now, however, he shows his face (the camera pans from the TV screen to his profile, his determination to survive and thrive visible. "I'm sure God has a reason for all that has happened to me. He is always with me, says Mazen. "I was able to get away. As we say in English, 'Enough is enough.'" Now, he has his own apartment, a number of good friends, and a chance to belly-dance in a local restaurant. Where images of his face reflected in metro windows indicate the pain in Mazen's memories, his new life reveals his resilience and strength.

Though each is briefly noted, the sagas in A Jihad for Love all insist on the links between endurance and change. Outlasting their oppressions, these survivors are building alternatives and inviting their communities -- gay and straight, passionate and traditional -- to share in their self-affirmations.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.