There is no judge but Judge Daryl Loomis. All readers are his prophets.
We're here! We're queer! We're Muslim!
While the LGBT movement is beginning to take a welcome foothold in parts of the United States, much of the country still looks at the group as a people unworthy of equal rights through all measure of society. In part, this opposition stems from the edicts of the Christian faith, whose leaders interpret homosexuality as a mortal sin. Unfortunately, many of the world's religions agree with this sentiment, leading to worldwide bigotry.
A Jihad for Love deals with this problem specifically in regard to the Muslim faith, one of the largest belief systems in the world. The laws of the religion are clear: homosexual acts are crimes punishable by death. No matter the punishment for the act, it cannot stop people from feeling the way they do; you can't contain something out of a person's control. Homosexuality exists in the Muslim community and, no matter how deep the closet is for some of the faith, the problem of criminalizing their actions is not something which can be swept under the rug. Director Parvez Sharma sheds light on the problem, by giving us the stories of these oppressed people in their own words.
Because of the threat of death, not every subject allows his or her face to be shown. Those who do allow it are very brave—and often already exiled—but know the prejudice will not go away until they stand up and say, "Look at me. I am homosexual and God stands beside me. You have no right to judge me." Not all are so brave, and understandably so, but Sharma treats them all with the same respect, allowing them to tell their stories how they see fit. He inserts a minimum of his own commentary, as their takes of pain, hope, and love speak for themselves.
The film is arranged in vignette form, bringing up one subject and those associated trials before moving on to the next with very little overlap. Sharma does well in dealing with all sides of the issue, featuring gay men, lesbians, and transsexuals in equal measure, spanning the entire globe. He even gives Muslim officials a forum to speak. Much as he disagrees with what they say, his method of filmmaking is a democratic one, and the objectivity he brings to the subject is refreshing.
At its best, A Jihad for Love demolishes established arguments for the criminality of homosexuals. Take the example of out, exiled radio personality and activist Muhsin Hendricks. In the film, he sits down for a discussion with a Muslim official about the common argument against homosexuality in religion, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hendrick's interpretation of the text is elegantly convincing. He claims the crime the Sodomites committed was not homosexuality, as the text makes no mention of same sex relationships, but rather rape. It is sexual assault that God condemns, not loving one of the same sex. The official dismisses the argument, stating Hendricks is simply interpreting the scripture to suit his needs. Of course, there is no mention of the fact this same kind of conjecture is what forbade homosexuality in the first place, but the point is taken. The official's argument is irrelevant, as there is no possible way for some human to understand the true intentions of a deity. Yet these same people claim they do, by perpetuating views of deviancy and marginalizing a substantial portion of their church.
Sharma uses a montage of footage the world over, to establish the issue in every sector of Muslim society. In discussing the problem with his subjects, the director shows them in their everyday lives as well as their religious lives which, surprise, look shockingly similar to the activities of their straight counterparts. In this way, Sharma changes A Jihad for Love from a film strictly concerned with the Muslim LGBT community into a study of the Muslim world as a whole. He always remains respectful to the religion, going so far as to blur the image of the Quran when a book is in the scene. Ultimately, this is a film about acceptance, and Sharma knows he can't begin to convince those who need it without remaining respectful. Well done, all around, for a first effort from Parvez Sharma.
First Run Features has done a fine job with their release of A Jihad for Love. The film was shot digitally, so the anamorphic widescreen image displays some of the problems with the format, but the transfer is crisp and free from errors. The stereo sound is equally clear. Plenty of languages are spoken from many different locales, but all are equally easy to understand. Our only extra is 30 minutes of deleted scenes, which give a larger picture of the issues. It's enough to supplement this film, a valuable study of an often forgotten segment of the LGBT community.
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