“I am a gay Muslim and I was very troubled by the discourse in the Western media and in the Muslim world that just focused on the violent aspects of Islam, which is a caring religion,” Sharma, 34, told Hour over the phone from another film festival in Sheffield, England, last weekend.
“I believe this film will ignite the dialogue queer Muslims are hoping for,” Sharma continues. “I’ve gotten thousands of emails from around the world showing there is a huge hunger for this film. The doors of dialogue are already opening in communities around the world – I’ve even been invited to Istanbul this April.”
Right now, even Sharma – who has not had any death threats but says, “I am concerned for my family. All I can say is they are from India” – admits the only hope for gay Muslims today is exile, prison, execution, insanity, humiliation, the closet or denial of their sexuality.
Each option is explored in Jihad for Love, from one of the Cairo 52 to an underground “drag” party in Pakistan and to the incredibly brave Iranian gay civil-rights activist Arsham Parsi, who finds asylum in Canada. (Parsi has since started the Toronto-based international gay civil-rights support group IRQO, or Iranian Queer Organization.)
“I had to film undercover almost everywhere I went,” Sharma explains. “I pretended to be a tourist. I was able to get remarkable access because I looked like everybody else. I embedded the interviews in the tapes with 10 minutes of tourist footage before and after so I wouldn’t get stopped by border agents.
“Egypt was especially challenging – it’s a police state and the crackdown there can only be described as a widespread pogrom against, particularly, gay men. In Bangladesh, authorities searched my hotel room.”
Of his film’s subjects, Sharma says, “I think I have never met braver people.”
Does Sharma foresee a day when the Muslim world will embrace gay civil rights as we see them in the West?
“No. The way we look at gay rights in the West does not apply to Muslim countries. It is arrogant to do so. A Gay Pride march in Tehran is not doable. What will be won will be determined by Muslims and not Western activists. I’m not about to vote for gay bars in Tehran.”
Clearly the dichotomy of reconciling faith with queer emancipation is a battle as old as Islam, as well as Christianity and Judaism itself.
But Sharma does feel he is on a mission from God. “I am called upon to do this work,” he says. “I feel my work is blessed by Allah.”
If Mohammed himself screened Sharma’s doc, what would Mohammed tell him?
“That he is very proud of this film because I am respectful of Islam and am doing my fundamental job as a believer to portray Islam accurately. I am concerned about the safety of my film’s subjects. But the public reaction to Jihad for Love has been overwhelmingly positive so far. So I am quite excited and optimistic about our future.”
extracted from “In the name of Allah”, Richard Burnett, http://www.hour.ca/film/film.aspx?iIDArticle=13416
Sexuality, terrorism films banned by Singapore
Last Updated: Saturday, April 5, 2008 | 2:43 PM ET
Singapore’s censor board has banned a film festival from screening four documentaries, including one made by a gay Muslim filmmaker and two others about terrorism.
The films Arabs and Terrorism and David the Tolhildan were “disallowed on the account of the sympathetic portrayal of organizations deemed terrorist organizations by many countries,” said Amy Chua, chair of the Board of Film Censors.
Arabs and Terrorism centres on the divergent views of right-wing U.S. policymakers and political groups from the Middle East, while David the Tolhildan chronicles the journey of a Swiss man who joins the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has been fighting for independence in southeastern Turkey.
The other films that are banned include A Jihad for Love by Parvez Sharma, which concerns homosexuals living within Muslim communities. Chua said the film was not permitted to be shown because of the “sensitive nature of the subject.”
As well, the Japanese documentary Bakushi has been blacklisted because its topic of bondage “normalizes unnatural fetishes and behaviour.”
The 21st annual Singapore International Film Festival, which began on Thursday and runs until April 14, had selected some 200 films to be shown. All the films are required to be classified by the censor board.
This is not the first time the city state has come down heavy with censorship. Rights groups have often lambasted the Singaporean government for its restrictions on expression and the media.
In January, the government banned a group of foreigners from participating in a choir that was planning to sing a list of complaints about life in Singapore.