LOOKING FOR COMPASSION IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
by John Topping
published August 6, 2008
A Jihad For
now touring throughout the country
In filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s A Jihad For Love, an extraordinarily important and
volatile subject – gay and lesbian Muslims who do not want to leave their faith – is explored – actually, not explored enough – in this
enormously disappointing documentary. The film weaves in and out of several subjects who have
agreed to participate in the film, but many of whom have not agreed to allow their faces to be shown. Aside from the standard digital blurring of faces, we are given breaks from that distracting convention
in the form of out-of-focus sequences as well as extreme close-ups of (frequently) one eye and part of the nose – often quite interestingly
composed, but ultimately giving it the effect of being a feature-length avant-garde abstraction more than a documentary.
However, that’s the least of the film’s problems. Unfortunately, we do not learn much
about the clash between Islam and homosexuality other than the fact that it exists and that gay and lesbian Muslims are struggling to
reconcile their core being with their religion’s rejection of it. The little we do learn is
either repetitive or fleeting. And none of the narrative threads are compelling – including
following four gay Muslim friends who flee for their lives from
Iran, live temporarily in Turkey and wait to see if they will be granted Visas to go to Canada.
This was a missed opportunity to build suspense and draw the viewer into the film.
There is a scene in this film that mirrors one in co-producer Sandi DuBowski’s own film – Trembling Before G-d, about the Jewish clash with homosexuality
– wherein a subject consults a religious scholar about the issue. Both times, it is like
hitting a brick wall, as the devotees are, essentially, given confirmation that their religion does not accept them, and that there’s no way
around it short of transforming into something they are not and cannot be. In Trembling,
the scene was heartbreaking, as the man seeking acceptance from his religion seemed to believe that there was a real chance to reconcile the
two issues, as the Rabbi gently ignored his tears to stick to the uncompromising reality. While
that was an emotional punch in the stomach, the response in Jihad’s parallel scene comes more as an expected slap in the face –
although the scholar here is actually similarly gentle in his rigidity.
The fact that A Jihad For Love falls far short of greatness or profundity is almost a non-issue in the bigger
picture. That it was made at all and is touring the world at large – and the Muslim world in
particular – is an invaluable contribution to the global struggle for human rights. It is, of
course, only a tiny chip in the barrier of a major religion, but its relatively high profile could also create a deeper crack than the
other available media on the subject. The point is, after all, to broach the subject and get
discussions started, and it certainly achieves and will continue to achieve that objective.
And while it displays the irony that self-awareness, humanity, and feeling the power of creation (being filled with God’s spirit, if you
prefer) through the expression of love to another human tends to be most brutally killed (often literally in the Muslim world) by the
self-assigned spokespeople for God, there is also ample evidence that the natural and powerful love from family transcends the barriers
that most religions impose. For someone who knew next to nothing about Muslims before seeing
the film, aside from the distorted views offered in the punditocracy, this was, consciously or not, the film's most hopeful example that
love will ultimately prevail.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com