Huffington Post, Why Democracy? and some interesting emails

The response to the Huffington Post feature has been overwhelming. I will be writing there again. Watch this space.

I have been invited to blog all day on October 2nd at Why Democracy?

This is the global news and analysis blog of Why Democracy House, part of the largest factual multimedia event in the world-where 10 of the world's best writers and bloggers have been invited to donate a day of their time to the site-and yes I am honoured to be one of them.

I reproduce below, the invitation from the amazing people over at this project.

" Greetings from Cape Town. I'm the media project manager for a project called Why Democracy? -- the largest global documentary broadcast in history, which will see 10 films made by 10 top directors shown in over 200 countries to hundreds of millions of people in October.

We've enjoyed Parvez Sharma's blog and we'd like to involve him in one blog component of this project. Several of our filmmakers, including Alex Gibney and Kazuhiro Soda are taking part, as well as an Indian economist, a popular Norwegian blogger, an underground activist from
Zimbabwe and a former US secretary of labor.

Our project's goal is to engage people in conversations about democracy (what works, what doesn't, how it can be improved, where it's needed, where it's abused, how it relates to other issues like the environment, human rights, etc.). The films are excellent, hard-hitting, critical and challenging -- some have already won festival awards in the past few months.

We're inviting a small number of smart, interesting bloggers and writers from around the world to act as guest news bloggers on a specific day leading up to and during the broadcasts of the films (from Sept. 24 through Oct. 18). We've got some of the best and brightest people on the planet, all effectively donating a day of blogging to the project.

Our site has a news page at http://www.whydemocracy.net/house/news . Parvez's role would be to blog about democracy-related and politicalevents in the News of the Day space for one day. He will have complete freedom to choose his topics and links and focus on issues and events he thinks are important. His posts will be archived, RSSed and readers will be able to comment on them.

In return, we'll include a short profile (if you wish), link back to his own site for the duration of the project, and connect him to a group of prominent, intelligent bloggers and filmmakers as well as expose his site to the large global audience we will gain as this event is covered by the media.

This project is going to be quite massive -- it's backed by the BBC, CBC, SBS, SABC and many other networks. But it's also being run on a shoestring (there's always more money for reality TV than for civic engagement.)

I'm donating my time to this project and I hope Parvez will see the value and potential of this effort and be eager to donate a day of blogging as well. "

This is a remarkable opportunity, and not being one to turn it down-I am donating a day of my time to what is already a huge broadcast event that will resonate from Cairo, to Tehran, to Delhi, to Tokyo, to LA and Rio de Janeiro.

And finally-in these times of virtual Jihad-the love arrives in different ways, usually email.

Wajih Choudhury, definitely a fellow Muslim, in an email title GO TO HELL (subject line) writes (the punctuation and caps lock key on his keyboard dont seem to work as fast as his emotion)

" you guys contribute nothing to helping the world. you only focus on
yourselves. i hope more and more of your faggots are persecuted."

I invite you all, dear readers to react to Mr. Choudhury's comments and then we can email him.

On another note, I met two Muslims (yes all of two) in Brazil and Yasmin from Rio writes this beautiful email. (Words like hers are the ones I choose to remain focussed on).

" Assalamu Aleikum.

Mr. Parvez Sharma,

I hope you're fine and in best health when you read this, inshallah. I met you yesterday, september 26, after i saw your movie at Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro.

I'd like to pay my complements to you and your team for the documentary "A Jihad for Love". I really liked it, wallah! Specially because it shows the conservative perspective in a respectiful way, the reality of those who live this difficult situation in Islam, and also shows how people are learning to deal with it together with Islam. I liked that it shows the need to review the muslim societies in a better way for the human being - as it is the greatest creation of Allah, but as we know that's not a problem only with the homosexuality, it's a problem with all the marginalized people in the muslim society, including women in general. It's interesting that the movie shows that the homosexuality isn't accepted by any divine religion, but I felt it makes an urgent request for the muslim society to become more tolerate with their brothers and sisters who have a different sexual peference.

In Brazil, although we are a secular country and we have a huge gay community - and gay tourism is growing widely specially in Rio de Janeiro - we have a very patriarchal social system. Most muslims here are converted and others came here running away from the wars in the Middle-East. Without prejudice, but I believe the converted muslim are more tough, intolerate - or may be, even, fundamentalists. And, because of our particular culture where man is the head of the family, etc, the prejudice against homosexuals is really big in the muslim brazilian society. Inshallah, this will change one day, and people will learn to be more tolerant with the other. But untill a straight man or woman keep seeing a gay or lesbian as someone different from him/her, tehre will still be prejudice and violence against those discriminated people.

My father's father side of the family come from Lebanon and my father's mother family is catholic, originated from Portugal. My mom's entire family is catholic, originated from Italy and Brazil. As you can see, brazilians are a very diversified, LOL. As my dad passed away when my mom was pregnant, she raised me in the catholic believes (and way), but I always had many questions that only Islam was able to answer me. Anyway...God is only one and "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger".

Inshallah this movie will be a great success! I wish you the best!


On my last day in Brazil-surrounded by teeming crowds near Santa Teresa, two men approached me at a cafe. This is as city of almost twenty million people and they recognized me from the previous night's screening ! They said:

"Parvez, thank you for making this film. We are not Muslim and know very little about Islam, but this film was about our lives".


Parvez Sharma on The Huffington Post

I have just returned from Brazil, to find my initial comments on Msrs. Ahmadi Nejad and Bollinger up and running on The Huffington Post-with many readers already sending in comments. Watch this space and The Huffington Post for updates and to read my blog click on this link below.

Ahmadinejad and the Homosexuality He Seeks to Deny



Last screening at midnight tonight and then I leave Rio.
The al-Arabiya interview I did with Muna Shikaki has aired in Dubai six times on Wednesday morning's news cycle. More to follow (watch the space for a hyperlink).
I will be blogging on 'The Huffington Post' soon about 'The Madness of Kings Bollinger and Ahmadinejad' (as I call it).
In Brazil-rave reviews in the national press today and some on the web. Also excellent articles in the major newspapers O Dia and Tribuna da Imprensa (on the front page of the website right now)

President Ahmadi Nejad

You are invited to a private screening of 'A Jihad for Love' which will give you some important insights into the lives of 'homosexuals' in your country.

You choose the date, time and venue.

I shall be posting more on the hysteria surrounding the 'evil that landed' (courtesy New York Daily News) soon and also blogging and writing on this issue widely.

Final Screening tonight

The final and fourth screening tonight is at midnight at the Estacao Botafogo
I expect a response no less than the others.
This is Rio afterall, with some of the most thoughtful audiences we have engaged with.


CNN interview and Jihad takes Rio

The third screening of the film at the 'Palacio' in downtown Rio last night was again sold out and the audience Q and A after the film was very engaging. I will be posting a detailed Rio report soon-a city where the poor in the favela's look down upon the rich from their hilltop perches of squalor.
A city where 'the bubble' of class and money defines the very character of the place.
For my CNN Interview on their show The Screening Room please click here.
My interview begins at 5: 11 into the clip
Hearts and minds are already being won. Here is what Marcellus said after the screening at the 'Palacio'
"Dear Mr. Sharma
I was deeply moved for your courage and sensitiveness concerning this outstanding work of art. Your movie is touching, relevant and beautiful. As I have said to your producer during this last monday night sitting at Palacio in Rio,I congratulate both of you and wish you the best while featuring and showing this beautiful movie all over the world. "


Brasil!!! Jihad do amor

Last night's screening was sold out.
People sitting in the aisles and on the floor
A discussion that lasts an hour
A gay Muslim (in Rio, no less) who engages with the film, says it has changed his life and turns out to be a scholar of the Haditha movement
Only in Brasil, where when it rains-it pours (dense clouds over Copacabana and Ipanema as I write this)
More to follow and if your Portugese is better than mine then please read this excellent interview.
A guerra santa do amor


Its raining emails!

In two weeks I have more than 1900 unanswered emails between our Facebook groups and my contact emails. The love and the emotion are beginning to show. I promise to answer everyone and will be posting some email comments here. I post them, without comment for the moment.

One person wrote:
"Well done!! You have gone where very few dared to go. Thank you for making a movie we feel we can own.!!!!"

Another one (she is unable to spell it seems) writes:
"punishments from god come to wer ppl r gay
dis is wrong in soo many ways
its haram to be gay
ur muslim den readhadits and da holy quran
ur not born gay
u choose to be gay
and dats wrong
my opinion
but i pray allah(swt) guides u to da rite path
and forgives u
cause muslims arent suppose to begay"

David from Toronto writes:
"Congratulations on the standing ovation at Tuesday's public screening!"


Digital Jihad

In a short week- our facebook group "A Jihad for Love-A Documentary by Gay Muslim Parvez Sharma' has more than a hundred members worldwide and is growing everyday. If you are a Facebook member please join the group now! If you are not on Facebook-well, its only 2007 and everybody else seems to be on it ; )
We need you to become part of our Digital Jihad-as the film begins to travel around the world.
Let us aim to substantially increase the number of members in the next week


Catch us in Rio this weekend

The end of (making) a film is just the beginning of a movement
More blog entries will follow as I try to recover from the warmth and love at all of the screenings in Toronto-even our last show at midnight on Saturday (September 15, 2007) was packed with an incredibly receptive audience. It was a privilege to have some of the subjects of the film: Muhsin, Mazen and Payam present at the screenings. (Payam came on Saturday night and that meant that there were subjects present at all of our three screenings). Our Screenings at the Rio International Film Festival begin this weekend.
In the meantime
WATCH: An interview on FilmCatcher.com here
READ: Finding a new out in "A Jihad for Love"
Turkish Daily News article (from Reuters) here
READ: Film in Focus (Blogger spells my name wrong and a few factual errors but a good report)
READ: Financial Express
Still to come- CNN, Al Arabiya (look out for this on the 24th through 26th of September), al- Jazeera, BBC-Talking Movies with Tom Brook and on the 2nd of October-I am on 'The Hour with George Stromboulopolous"-Canada's (CBC) top rated news show


Love, Emotion, Smarts

That my friends, is Toronto.
The press response has also been incredibly positive.
Just did 'The Hour' with CBC to air in the next two weeks-for updates watch this space.
Reuters has a comprehensive article on the film. "Jihad for Love" seeks gay Muslim audiences.
Look out for CNN International, the BBC's Talking Movies with Tom Brook, CNN American Morning, al-Jazeera and much more in the next few weeks.
I do intend to post a festival roundup as soon as we get a minute.
The warmth and the embrace of the audiences here has been overwhelming.

Some other recent posts include:

Diogenes Borealis Blog – September 12, 2007

Pick-up of Reuters article.


Gaytwogether – September 12, 2007

Pick-up of Reuters article.


Pride Depot.com – September 12, 2007

“A Jihad For Love” documents gay Muslims”



Hearts and Minds: The Guardian

For the extremely well written article in the UK's 'The Guardian' go to

Hearts and Minds

Sharma's Jihad makes waves in Toronto: Hollywood Reporter

Excellent Press all around!
The interest in the film is profound and heartening.
Please look at this latest 'Hollywood Reporter' article.
Go to:
Sharma's 'Jihad' makes waves in Toronto

Recent Press Breaks/ More to come

– September 6, 2007

“Hearts and minds” – Feature on A Jihad for Love and Parvez Sharma.


The Hollywood Reporter/Reuters – September 6, 2007

“Tense times in Toronto” – Parvez Sharma’s A Jihad for Love mentioned as a “hot title” documentary in the Toronto Film Festival.


Gay News Bits Blog – September 6, 2007

“Documentary on Gay Muslims to Show at TIFF” – Article announces that A Jihad for Love will be premiering at TIFF.

http://gaynewsbits.com/2007/09/05/documentary-on-gay-muslims-to-show-at-tiff /


Bringing the 'Jihad of the camera' to Toronto

Islam has the fundamental concept of the greater "Jihad", an "inner struggle" - one often ignored in the narrow interpretation of the word as "holy war", beamed into your home daily-courtesy the friendly folk at Fox and friends.

As the gay and Muslim director/producer of a A Jihad for Love I am faced with the choice that all Muslims must make today. Are we going to allow our own communities' volatile bigots (definitely a minority) define our religion for us? Or are we going to really embrace the Islam that our Prophet had revealed to him a little more than fourteen centuries ago? That was an Islam that held a promise of women's rights which had not been seen before; an Islam that empowered sexuality and took it out of the bounds of procreation; an Islam that was able to unite first a few warring tribes in the desert and then entire nations and civilizations.

All Muslims also face the profound choice of either allowing themselves to become apologists for their faith (easy enough to do in the West) or speak with conviction about their very own Islam's-with all of their diversity and centuries of independent reasoning (Ijtihad). I know the Islam I have chosen, which is pretty much the same Islam the subjects of A Jihad for Love bring to Canada this autumn.

As a Muslim filmmaker, mine is the "Jihad" of the camera. I humbly suggest that filmmakers like myself follow in the footsteps of scholars through centuries who had chosen "the Jihad of the pen". In making this film it has been profound to realize that I am called upon to be a defender of my faith. I can think of no place better than Toronto to begin a discussion that is as vital to continuing discussions and debate within Islam, as the many others that surround us today.

It's time that we reclaimed Jihad and it's about time that all those voices within Islam that have been silenced for too long - and believe me there are many- speak out. I certainly have the humility to realize I am not the only to start speaking out loud and out proud. As gays and lesbians we are now ready to lay equal claim to our profoundly held faith and no one can stop us.

Let's make this Jihad digital and take it into the twenty first century with the tools that our ancestors did not have. You all are invited to join us to witness for what is a hopeful beginning on September 9th, 11th and 15th.

You will meet some of the subjects of the film. I am told the 'buzz' around the film is getting louder and indeed this is excellent news.

Our website and my own blog with all of the information for the screening has now gone live at www.ajihadforlove.com


Screening Times and Venues for TIFF 2007

This is a list of our Toronto Screenings
Please visit www.ajihadforlove.com and http://www.tiff07.ca for more information on how to get tickets.
Public, September 9th, 8:30 PM, Cumberland 3
Public, September 11th, 1:15 PM, Royal Ontario Museum
Public, September 15th, 11:59 PM, Varsity 7
Accredited Press & Industry, September 10th, 1:30 PM, Cumberland 3
Accredited Press & Industry, September 12th, 11:30 AM, Varsity VIP 3

About A Jihad for Love

In a time when Islam is under tremendous attack - from within and without -'A Jihad for Love' is a daring documentary filmed in twelve countries and nine languages. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma has gone where the silence is loudest, filming with great risk in nations where government permission to make this film was not an option.
A Jihad for Love is Mr. Sharma’s debut and is the world’s first feature documentary to explore the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality. Parvez enters the many worlds of Islam by illuminating multiple stories as diverse as Islam itself. The film travels a wide geographic arc presenting us lives from India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and France. Always filming in secret and as a Muslim, Parvez makes the film from within the faith, depicting Islam with the same respect that the film's characters show for it. "A Jihad for Love' is co-produced by Sandi DuBowski (Director/Producer of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d) in association with ZDF-Arte, Channel 4, LOGO, SBS-Australia, The Sundance Documentary Fund and The Katahdin Foundation.

In Western media, the concept of ‘jihad’ is often narrowly equated with holy war. But Jihad also has a deeper meaning, its literal Arabic being ‘struggle’ or ‘to strive in the path of God’. In this film we meet several characters engaged in their personal Jihad’s for love. The people in this film have a lot to teach us about love. Their pursuit of love has brought them into conflicts with their countries, families, and even themselves. Such is the quandary of being both homosexual and Muslim, a combination so taboo that very little about it has been documented.

As a result majority of gay and lesbian Muslims must travel a twisting, lonely and often dangerous road. The majority of Muslims believe that homosexuality is forbidden by the Quran and many scholars quote Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) to directly condemn homosexuality. Islam, already the second largest religion in the world is also the fastest growing. 50 nations have a Muslim majority. In a few of those nations laws interpreted from alleged Quranic prohibitions of male homosexuality (lesbianism is allegedly absent from the Quran) are enforced by religious, tribal or military authorities to monitor, entrap, imprison, torture and even execute homosexuals. Even for those who migrate to Europe or North America and adopt Western personae of "gay" or "queer," the relative freedoms of new homelands are mitigated by persistent racial profiling and intensified state surveillance after the attacks of 9/11 and train bombings in Madrid and London.

As a result, many gay and lesbian Muslims end up renouncing their religion completely. But the real-life characters of A Jihad for Love aren't willing to abandon a faith they cherish and that sustains them. Instead, they struggle to reconcile their ardent belief with the innate reality of their being. The international chorus of gay and lesbian Muslims brought together by A Jihad for Love doesn't seek to vilify or reject Islam, but rather negotiate a new relationship to it. In doing so, the film's extraordinary characters attempt to point the way for all Muslims to move beyond the hostile, war-torn present, toward a more hopeful future. As one can imagine, it was a difficult decision for the subjects to participate in the film due to the violence they could face. It took the filmmaker six years to finish this film and he like those who have stepped forward to tell their stories feel that they are Islam’s most unlikely storytellers. All of them feel that this film is too important for over a billion Muslims-and all the non-Muslims in the world-for them to say no. They are willing to take the risk in their quest to lay equal claim to their profoundly held faith.

A Jihad for Love’s characters each have vastly different personal takes on Islam, some observing a rigorously orthodox regimen, others leading highly secular lifestyles while remaining spiritually devout. As the camera attentively captures their stories, the film’s gay and lesbian characters emerge in all their human complexity, giving the viewer an honest rendering of their lives while complicating our assumptions about a monolithic Muslim community.

Crucially, this film speaks with a Muslim voice, unlike other documentaries about sexual politics in Islam made by Western directors. In the hope of opening a dialogue that has been mostly non-existent, in Islam’s recent history and defining jihad as a “struggle” rather than a “war,” the film presents the struggle for love.

Jihad comes to Toronto

It has been almost seven years since I landed on the shores of "the free world" in my rickety boat and now we all find that the torch the lady on the Hudson holds has never burnt more feebly. As a Muslim filmmaker from India I have been honored to have the current US regime re-classify me “an alien with extraordinary abilities.” This is a real Department of Homeland Security category also known as the O-1 visa.

Interestingly, I was entering fairest Halifax in Canada on the day that Toronto announced A Jihad for Love as part of its official documentary line-up. I was there in the middle of a very hectic post-production schedule, hoping to get the US consular office to stamp my one-year US visa renewal. As I was sent for “secondary inspection” (as I always am), a wholesome and buxom Nova Scotia border agent asked me what my film was about. This time I told her that it was about Islam and homosexuality and that Toronto had selected it. She smiled and told me that she had just read about it in the Globe newspaper and hoped to see it. She waved me on. Only in Canada!

Just three years ago, when I still had the re-drawn map of North America, as my screen saver (the post US election one - which showed the “red” states as “Jesusland” and everything else as “The United States of Canada”), I was leaving Canadian soil triumphant with my first O-1 visa stamped. I was taken for secondary inspection (this time by the US border agents stationed in Toronto) and asked what kind of “filmmaker” I was. All I could muster was “a documentary filmmaker doing a film on gays in minority communities.” I have come a long way and so has this film in the last three years.

The film started when I was a student shooting on borrowed two chip Sony cameras in Washington DC. It was only after my remarkable producer, Sandi DuBowski (who has legendary skills in documentary fund raising and outreach) came in a few years ago that I found the resources to film in countries like Egypt or Bangladesh. Visible and invisible forces, thoughtfully supplied by autocratic regimes have watched my every move. In Bangladesh, I had to depart hastily once state security ransacked my hotel room.

As many of us independent documentarians already know, filming without government permissions is a remarkable risk. I have discovered that the thrill of landing wherever home or "safe" might be - with those tiny mini DV tapes intact in your checked baggage - is an indescribable reward. As a “Jihadi” filmmaker I also know that the democratization of the industry with digital technology and smaller cameras has created a revolution in the stories we dare to tell. My advice: try to look like a tourist and no tripods EVER! This means you better work on those handheld skills.

I still have a film to finish so that you can all see it on Sunday and I promise to return with more musings from the frontlines of this, our love Jihad. Please visit www.ajihadlove.com for updates on this remarkable film.

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