Puzzling Struggle in A Jihad for Love


Muslims, Jews, and Christians may have their, oh, occasional differences, but as an Islamic scholar observes early in Parvez Sharma’s documentary, there is one point on which the world’s divine religions agree: Homosexuality is a crime. In his fine Trembling Before G_d, Sandi DuBowski tackled the conflict in the Orthodox Jewish community between religious stricture and sexual orientation; this DuBowski-produced doc addresses the same subject through the veil of Islam, following gay, lesbian, and transvestite Muslims abroad who hew to their faith in the face of hostile, even murderous dogma. Director Sharma’s subjects—an Egyptian man arrested, imprisoned, and brutalized in 2001 essentially for the crime of attending a disco; a gay imam whose attempts to find some lenience in the Quran are fiercely rebuffed—share a perhaps puzzling devotion to a religion that, under sharia interpretation, regards their expression of love as a death-penalty offense. And yet, as in Trembling Before G_d, the movie leaves open a provocative question: If you pick and choose which tenets of a religion apply to you, is it still a religion? The conflict seems most deeply felt by Maryam, a Parisian lesbian who cherishes both women and Islam but confesses that she still considers her sexuality haraam—forbidden. The imam—whose awkward talk with his mischievous kids about the death penalty for gays is the movie’s most original and emotionally complex moment—clarifies that his is a “jihad” for love in the sense of struggle, not holy war. Considering the hateful rhetoric he faces on a radio call-in show, however, he may be mistaken.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 20, 2008

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