Parvez Sharma's important documentary A Jihad for Love is receiving some well-deserved acclaim. After hearing buzz about this film for months, I was lucky enough to attend a screening, here in Chicago, at which Sharma fielded questions from a small but inquisitive audience.
A Jihad for Love follows a series of queerly-inclined folks of various nationalities (South Africa, India, Turkey, France...) as they attempt to confront the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between their Islamic faith and their same-sex desires. Some offer revised interpretations of the Qur'an, some hope to emigrate to escape social (and sometimes political/legal) dangers, and still others are wracked by guilt and shame about their sexual preference.
Sharma's decision to film subjects in a variety of national contexts highlights the immense diversity in beliefs and practices across the Muslim community. Ultimately though the film fails to fully interrogate the profound importance of Islam in these peoples' lives; we get that Islam is important to them, but not exactly how faith functions in daily life and in the formation of identity. Islam (and more broadly, Religion) is portrayed as a given--a static, stable system of belief that exists as is; a force with which it is possible to argue, but rarely to refashion.
Nonetheless, the film packs a substantial emotional wallop in its presentation of complex, intelligent people struggling to (re)define themselves. At its core A Jihad for Love opens up a space for insightful discussion, no small feat for a small-budget documentary released in an era defined by severe anti-Islamic rhetoric.