By Jeff Walsh
As it starts, "A Jihad For Love" has a familiar feeling for anyone who's ever seen movies about issues of sexuality and spirituality. We learn that the only reference to homosexuality in the Qur'an is about Sodom and Gomorrah. And that, though not part of the Qur'an, several Hadith (sayings attributed directly to Muhammad) directly condemn homosexuality. So, we're in familiar ground here, in a debate that continues about how to rectify sexuality and spirituality.
From the beginning, if you interchanged the words Qur'an and Bible, it would seem to make a lot of the same arguments with which many Americans are familiar. But as the film plays on, the familiarity washes away. People are imprisoned. Their backs bearing the marks of 100 bloody lashes. They leave their home and wait as refugees seeking asylum from a country they love, families they miss, and a religion that is still an important and meaningful part of their lives.
Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma isn't out to poke holes in Islam, or quote scripture back and forth with scholars (in fact, every scholar in the movie without fail just says homosexuality is wrong). But he is clearly interested in showing the depth of purpose that many gay Muslims feel, and the disconnect that causes with their culture. Sharma is also showing many sides of Islam, but none resembling the Al Qaeda caricature we usually see.
For most people, their sexuality and the spirituality are the same, just an innate feeling of what rings true to them and gives them meaning and purpose. To try to define either make them less defined or, to quote the Tao Te Ching: The tao that can be named is not the eternal tao.
The documentary follows Muslims in 12 countries and 9 languages to tell this universal story. None of the subjects renounce their faith, but only want to embrace their sexuality in the practice of their faith.
There is a distance seeing this in America, where we let our religious leaders talk openly of faith as they become less relevant. There is more devotion to Islam than I'm used to seeing for any religion in America. Many of the participants in the documentary have their faces blurred so it doesn't cause harm to their families back home. Yet they keep pushing away from everything they were taught to love so they can find love in their own hearts. It's definitely a powerful story, even for someone like me who tends to find religion sort of a silly fiction.
But if you're interested in learning more about Islam, and the hardships people still go through just to be able to identify safely, happily, and proudly as gay Muslims, this is definitely a film that is not to be missed.