Parvez Sharma: Filmmaker

Utne Reader visionary

Parvez Sharma

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Parvez Sharma spent five years traveling a broad swath of the Islamic world to film A Jihad for Love , a first-of-its-kind documentary about gay and lesbian Muslims who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. Most of the filming was done in secret, Sharma says, just a director and his camera—no crew, no fancy equipment. He had to be invisible.

Because invisibility is the rule, not the exception, in many Islamic countries, Sharma, himself a gay Muslim who was born and raised in India, had to do some supercharged networking to find prospective interviewees in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, France, and elsewhere. Getting people to speak was difficult, he says, but “the biggest battle was to convince them to appear on camera.” 

The faces of many of the film’s brave subjects, who fear for their families and for their lives, are blurred. They are not bashing, renouncing, or otherwise bad-mouthing Islam, however; that’s why, Sharma explains, two years after A Jihad for Love debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, he and everyone who appears in the film remain “fatwa-free.”

“It’s extremely clear that the film is not an attack on Islam,” he says. “The agenda I’ve had all along is to create change within my own religion from inside, from within Muslim communities. I feel it’s the believers who can reform religion.”

Extras:

A Jihad for Love is on DVD and is widely available (including through Netflix). See Sharma discuss the film, and the widely varying status of gay rights in various countries, in a 2008 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! (with transcript), and view the trailer for A Jihad for Love . The film’s homepage is www.ajihadforlove.com; Sharma blogs at www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com.

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