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“A Jihad for Love” with Filmmaker Parvez Sharma

October 16, 2008 @ 7:00 pm 9:00 pm EDT

Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma has gone where the silence is loudest with a daring feature documentary, A Jihad for Love (2007). Exploring the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality, the film was created with great risk and secrecy in 9 languages and 12 countries where government permission was not an option. As a Muslim, Parvez works from within the faith, depicting Islam with the same respect that the film’s characters show for it.

Co-sponsored by Women Against War.

Three silhouetted figures on rocks looking at the sky which is orange and cloudy

Still from A Jihad for Love by Parvez Sharma

Press Release:

In a time when Islam is under tremendous attack-from within and without-“A Jihad for Love” is a daring documentary filmed in twelve countries and nine languages. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma has gone where the silence is loudest, filming with great risk in nations where government permission to make this film was not an option.

“A Jihad for Love” is Mr. Sharma’s debut and the world’s first feature documentary to explore the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality. Parvez enters the many worlds of Islam by illuminating multiple stories as diverse as Islam itself. The film travels a wide geographic arc presenting us lives from India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and
France. Always filming in secret and as a Muslim, Parvez makes the film from within the faith, depicting Islam with the same respect that the film’s characters show for it. “A Jihad for Love” is co-produced by Sandi DuBowski (director/producer of the award-winning “Trembling Before G-d”) in association with ZDF-Arte, Channel 4, LOGO, SBS-Australia, The Sundance Documentary Fund and The Katahdin Foundation.

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.” In this film we meet several characters engaged in their personal Jihad’s for love. 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. Such is the quandary of being both homosexual and Muslim, a combination so taboo that very little about it has been documented.

As a result the majority of gay and lesbian Muslims must travel a twisting, lonely and often dangerous road. The majority of Muslims believe that homosexuality is forbidden by the Quran and many scholars quote Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) to directly condemn homosexuality. Islam, already the second largest religion in the world, is also the fastest growing. Fifty nations have a Muslim majority. In a few of those nations laws interpreted from alleged Quranic prohibitions of male homosexuality (lesbianism is allegedly absent from the Quran) are enforced by religious, tribal or military authorities to monitor, entrap, imprison, torture and even execute homosexuals. Even for those who migrate to Europe or North America and adopt Western personae of “gay” or “queer,” the relative freedoms of new homelands are mitigated by persistent racial profiling and intensified state surveillance after the attacks of 9/11 and train bombings in Madrid and London.

As a result, many gay and lesbian Muslims end up renouncing their religion completely. But the real-life characters of “A Jihad for Love” aren’t willing to abandon a faith they cherish and that sustains them. Instead, they struggle to reconcile their ardent belief with the innate reality of their being. The international chorus of gay and lesbian Muslims brought together by “A Jihad for Love” doesn’t seek to vilify or reject Islam, but rather negotiate a new relationship to it. In doing so, the film’s extraordinary characters attempt to point the way for all Muslims to move beyond the hostile, war-torn present, toward a more hopeful future. As one can imagine, it was a difficult decision for the subjects to participate in the film due to the violence they could face. It took the filmmaker six years to finish this film and he, like those who have stepped forward to tell their stories, feel that they are Islam’s most unlikely storytellers. All of them feel that this film is too important for over a billion Muslims-and all the non-Muslims in the world-for them to say no. They are willing to take the risk in their quest to lay equal claim to their profoundly held faith.

“A Jihad for Love”’s characters each have vastly different personal takes on Islam, some observing a rigorously orthodox regimen, others leading highly secular lifestyles while remaining spiritually devout. As the camera attentively captures their stories, the film’s gay and lesbian characters emerge in all their human complexity, giving the viewer an honest rendering of their lives while complicating our assumptions about a monolithic Muslim community.

Crucially, this film speaks with a Muslim voice, unlike other documentaries about sexual politics in Islam made by Western directors. In the hope of opening a dialogue that has been mostly non-existent, in Islam’s recent history and defining jihad as a “struggle” rather than a “war,” the film presents the struggle for love.

Parvez Sharma Biography:

Parvez Sharma (producer/director of “A Jihad for Love”) is a Muslim gay filmmaker born and raised in India. For three years, Sharma worked as a broadcast journalist for Asia’s premiere and most highly-rated 24-hour news network, the Star News Channel/NDTV, covering major assignments across the Indian subcontinent and specializing in investigative/human rights stories and political profiles. He worked as producer and/or editor for BBC World Television’s Moneywise and IndiaTomorrow, Central Television (UK), The Discovery Channel (US), and the World Bank Film and Video Unit (US). He was the assistant director for the award-winning feature, “Dance of the Wind,” produced by Pandora Film in Germany and NFDC India with director Rajan Khosa which won awards at the London, Rotterdam and Nantes Film Festivals. In 2005, he was a producer at Democracy Now!, the nationally broadcast radio and television program which airs on 225 stations across North America with award-winning host Amy Goodman. He produced, edited and did additional camera for the DVD of Peter Friedman’s Sundance Grand Jury Award winning film “Silverlake Life.”

Parvez Sharma received his bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Presidency College, University of Calcutta (India) and three Masters degrees: Mass Communication (Film and Television) from India’s premier MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia University; Broadcast Journalism from the University of Wales College of Cardiff, UK; and Film and Video from American University’s School of Communication. He has taught Indian film and other media courses at American University’s Department of Anthropology and its School of Communication in Washington, DC.

In the nineties, Sharma was a print journalist for several prominent Indian newspapers including The Telegraph, The Statesman, The Economic Times, The Business Standard, and India Currents Magazine. While at the Statesman he reported on what was the first ever detailing of the lesbian experience within India for a national newspaper-“Emerging from the Shadows” (July 3, 1994)–which became a rallying point for lesbians around the country and was crucial in the formation of many lesbian organizations. As an activist he was instrumental in setting up the first organized LGBTQ effort in the eastern state of West Bengal, setting benchmarks for many other LGBT organizing efforts around the subcontinent. Parvez has spoken internationally on distinguished film/media panels and panels on issues crucial to LGBT communities in a South Asian and Muslim context. He was a featured speaker at Yale University Law School, at th Persistent Vision in San Francisco, The Open Society Institute in New York, The Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in New York and at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Conference–Global Pride, Global Action: Empowering the Spirit of Human Rights.

Sharma’s first feature documentary, “A Jihad for Love,” is co-produced with the UK’s Channel 4, France’s ARTE, Germany’s ZDF, Australia’s SBS, and U.S. MTV-LOGO. His work and the film have been profiled by The New York Times, Variety, The Atlantic Monthly, Hollywood Reporter, indieWIRE, France’s Tetu Magazine, San Francisco Gate, on NPR-Chicago and numerous other publications.

The film has been supported by a wide number of foundations including The van Ameringen Foundation, The Hartley Film Foundation, The Mathilde Krim Foundation, The Andrew Tobias Foundation-Stonewall Community Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, The Bruce Bastion Foundation, The Foundation for Fairer Capitalism, The Ted Snowdon Foundation, and The Mark D. Hostetter and Alexander N. Habib Foundation. He was honored with a nomination for a 2007 Rockefeller Film/Video/Multimedia Fellowship.

With his wide range of experience in film, television and activism spanning three continents (Asia, Europe, and North America), and his proficiency in five languages (English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Punjabi), Sharma hopes to bring a rich cultural perspective and an honest and skillful depiction of Islam-and his very own communities- to this film and the courageous journeys it documents and the global dialogue it catalyzes.

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