Elevate Difference

A Jihad For Love

To ponder the relationship between Islam and homosexuality is to consider something that does not exist. Parvez Sharma’s groundbreaking documentary, A Jihad for Love, calls this frequently held assumption what it is: a lie. A Jihad for Love is a deep exploration of Islam and homosexuality gleaned through the eyes of several gays, lesbians, and trans-genders set across the Muslim world. Filmed in twelve countries and in nine languages, it is a collection of stories that alternate between poignancy and the heart-wrenching battle between the equally challenging loves of faith and of humanity. Sharma effectively demonstrates the nuances that exist within different Muslim nations that have complicated attitudes concerning homosexuality based on the nation’s history and the different branches of Islam defying easy and/or lazy generalizations.

In depicting the struggles of the Muslim LGBT community, A Jihad for Love, shows that there are myriad perspectives in within their faith community. It begins in a nation that has a growing reputation for acceptance of the community: South Africa (the nation became the first in Africa and only the fifth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2006). We learn the story of Muhsin, a gay imam who in his early life married and had children but eventually recognized his sexuality and began a process toward reconciling his sexuality with the faith that he also loved. The subsequent journey is not just one of self-discovery but also one in which the community discovers its faith anew and where there is a mutual understanding of far greater depth.

Moving north, we find a less fortunate but no less redemptive story in the Egyptian student Mazen. He is imprisoned after his arrest under the nation’s “indecency laws” which make homosexuality illegal and is in jail for nearly a year before being sentenced to an additional three years. He escapes, and upon reviewing a video recording of the trial, his anger is still raw, palpable.

The story of the Turkish lesbian couple of Ferda and Kiymet was one that I found most poignant. In particular, when Ferda introduces Kiymet to her mother, as it was a beautiful experience that I immediately related to. Upon the conclusion of the meeting, Kiymet says something that I could imagine my lover saying after meeting my mother: “Perfect!” I was as elated for Kiymet as I was for my partner and myself after we went through that “parental meeting” stage of our relationship. Turkey is more tolerant of homosexuality and the film briefly explores the connection between this state of affairs and the branch of Islamic mysticism, Sufism.

The three stories mentioned above among others brought knowledge to bear on my own misconceptions concerning the Islamic faith and homosexuality. The unprecedented focus of A Jihad for Love should continue the much-needed discussion between LGBT Muslims who seek to love within this peaceful and beautiful faith and the Islamic umma at large and bring knowledge and compassion to bear within such dialogue so that those that feel forced to love in secret can one day know the immutable joys of freedom.

Written by: Brandon Copeland, February 5th 2010