Chicago is BUZZING!

Samaha Ivanovic, is a wonderful Bosnian Muslim woman here in Chicago. She came to see the film yesterday and has posted this below, on her blog. She has also posted this message on the AMAL listserve which has been buzzing with a discussion about this film coming to Chicago. This can only mean, that more Muslims will come and see the film this weekend! Just what I want.
The movie hadn't even hit the Chicago screen, nor had anyone seen it, but it caused quite a stir amongst a group that seemed to be sleeping through the summer except for a short burst in regards to Obama's visit to Michigan. Opinions were there and a few references to sources that were enriching.
I expected that I would be moved by what the Muslim LBGT community goes through throughout the Islamic world, that was a given - the movies title means "a struggle for love". What I hadn't expected was the sheer power of this movie to move me on so many different levels.
Up until tonight, I could only imagine the struggles that they must face to be free to be who they are but I couldn't quite imagine the spiritual struggle. I've been able to read essays and books relating to LGBT and Islam. I'm in a Muslim society that I feel is open to discussion and in a society where there exists a movement that is pro-equality so I could never fully understand that there would be a spiritual 'jihad' of this magnitude. Tonight, watching the movie, I could feel their jihad within me and there is this pain that isn't going away.
The movie takes you through a journey of guilt, pain, confusion and suffering but though they have perservered through many different trials and some even eventually fleeing their home countries they hold onto their faith. Images of the charachters praying, visiting mosques and their conversations about their love for Allah and the Prophet (pbuh) overpower the tribulations that they have experienced due to thier lifestlye. While a person will never forget the brutality and cruelty they have faced one comes away with a greater understanding of the internal 'jihad'.
The movie itself is pretty much Muslim friendly, you won't find any scenes of passionate kissing or the such although their is one scene in which a young man performs a belly dance (someone refered to him as 'scantily clad') but quite honestly we're just as likely to see as much being revealed out at the mall, in restaurants, pedestrians crossing the street but it doesn't keep us from leaving the house.
In some sense for the Muslim community this movie is a success. Such a highly controversial subject would draw condemnations and protestors of other faith believers if the movie was just a portrayal of [your religion here] LGBT community. Surely, one would jump to the conclusion that this subject matter would draw some sort of negative reaction from the Muslim community. I asked Parvez Sharma, the director and producer of a Jihad For Love" if he found such a reaction from the Muslim community in North America and the answer was no. Emails though - yes, he gets his fair share of hate mail.
While last nights audience of about 100 people was a mix of Muslims and non-Muslims and a Tanzinanian couple, who were as Parvez put it "about his parents age", walked up to Parvez and told him that this movie was really about family, this movie still symbolizes a failure of the Muslim community. We fail to support those who are unlike us. We've got our Ayaans out there and we insist that it's not that we won't accept their criticism because they left our faith. We insist that we would be open to dialogue if it weren't an attack on Islam if we felt that their was no hidden agenda. We insist that we could deal with all of these issues if they were presented in a tasteful way. Here it is. Here is a movie that is not only sensitive to Muslims and tastefully produced and where are we? I'm talking to the MSA's that weren't willing to put the effort into being open to the movie. I'm talking to my friends at the listserve who may be considering sitting this one out.
Are we going to sit this one out people? Is the voice not loud enough for you to draw a reaction? This movie would have drawn huge audiences if the charachters were angry apostates. Such a movie that portrays 'jihad' in it's true sense a movie which has focused on Muslim who stayed within Islam, whose love for Allah is great .. this movie is for YOU my fellow Muslims. Go see it! Support it! Don't just let it go.

LA and Chicagoland

So I am here in Chicago and have just found this excellent feature on the film in todays LA Times by the newspapers religion reporter, Duke Helfand
Please read and comment ; )

Filmmaker uncovers the struggle of gay Muslims in 'A Jihad for Love'

The film opened last night here in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Right across the street Bill Maher was doing his routine at the 'Chicago'-a popular event and some tough competion, no doubt.
But almost a 100 people came on the first day with the second screening fostering one of the most compelling Q and A sessions I have had. The audience was remarkable and engaged and included Muslims. I was deeply touched when an older Tanzanian (probably Muslim) married heterosexual couple (probably my parents age) came up to me and said ' This film is also really about family'.

Powerful words, and definitely true.
Meanwhile a minor controversy has also broken out here with my Muslim and straight friends here trying to do outreach at the Downtown Islamic Center. Yesterday the Imam at the mosque said he would not be willing to associate the mosque with the film. This was when my friend who is also on the board of the mosque requested him to make an announcement. Flyers of the film, however were distributed just outside the mosque after Friday Jummah prayers.
I am continuing to work towards the goal of engaging with many Muslims in the Chicago area.
This is Obamaland afterall! And that means, Change is in the Air, right?


Toronto Again!

After almost a year, Jihad is in theatrical release here in Canada and audiences at the Royal theater in Torontos hip College area are loving it. More updates and comments to follow. The film plays through Thursday at the very least.
Read this in the Globe and Mail, Canadas newspaper of record- Coming out as a warrior in the struggle for love
And this feature in NOW magazine (the Village Voice in Toronto)
Gay, Muslim and Unafraid

And finally this special feature on ABC News with many interesting comments from the Middle East (will post some here) "Breaking Silence on Being Gay and Muslim"

This email from Anas:
Dear Mr. Parvez Sharma,
I reside in Chicago and hope to see this film at its debut tomorrow/weekend. I have seen the trailer and several interviews on youtube. I am excited and thrilled to see this film. As a Muslim-American my personal Jihad with my sexuality has been in the forefront of my mind since I came out 15 years ago. It never goes away and the loneliness I feel at times balancing my spirituality and my life as gay man seems overwhelming, but I knew there are other Muslims dealing with the same issues. I THANK YOU and may Allah bless your efforts!
I hope to add more after I see your film.


NPR Today

I was on NPR this morning-their leading show 'Morning Edition' talking about Jihad.
More soon, including the Osama Bin Laden t-shirts selling on the streets of Tokyo. (click below to listen)

What Does 'Jihad' Really Mean?


A gay muslim in TOKIO

This is another planet, honestly.
Many national obsessions and I will write more soon.
The film has been overwhelmingly well received by 250 Japanese and expats two nights ago at a multi storeyed downtown Tokio theater in Shinjuku.
Some responses have come in...

Dear Mr. Sharma,
I'm Masaki Urakawa, and I am the one who asked you a question about being a muslim yesterday in the film festival
Thanks again for your great film.
That expanded my view about being a gay in the world.
Also, I was amazed by your very clear answer to me about being a muslim.
Though it might be impossible for me as a Japanese to perfectly sympathize those muslim gays but your answer greatly helped me to understand how their struggles were taugh.
I would love to access your blogspot and watch the discussion there.



Even on my mini vacation-I cannot resist sharing the following emails with you all...including the first one that brought tears to my eyes...

Salaam alykum
My name is Asmaa. I am a lesbian muslim from Canada. I have been suicidal for the past years. Because I thought I was the only homosexual muslim in the world. Thank you for letting me know that I'm not alone. And I can still be a lesbian if I was a muslim. The muslim community around the world needs to wake up and realize there are gays and lesbians in there community. And not punish theme for who they are. Keep up the good work


Dear Parvez,
We spoke briefly after your screening of A Jihad For Love on Tuesday. I found it extremely moving. I'm half-Egyptian and gay and feel very lucky to have been born in a country where my sexuality is not a crime. I was so devastated by the film, I had to leave in the middle of the Q & A. You've articulated through your film, an oppression that feeds off of silence. Thank you.

Sakura says:
I think it's fantastic that a film like this exist. Because for one, there's finally a piece of media out there that doesn't portray Muslims as terrorists. It seems that gay Muslims are invisible.
Keep up the good work

Anonymous (In response to my 'Am I Homophobic' post) says...
I agree totally. I think that the Western queer 'community' is insular: we don't give a damn about queers in other parts of the world who are suffering. I wish that we would turn our focus to the sufferings of queers the worldover instead of just fighting for our rights to have the trappings of a middle class existence. It's pride weekend where I live in London and I can't bare yet another day of flagrant hedonism whilst our brothers and sisters are executed or tortured in Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and countless other countries.


I value this...

I value this persons opinion for many reasons, and therefore reproduce it below-

"Moving narrative and heart felt aesthetics. I think it would make a sceptic pause and think about question of sexual orientation with compassion because of the authenticity of the lives presented. The racial and cultural diversity underlying the film reinforces its pluralist message.
Its definitely one of those films that can cause a paradigm shift in an ecosystem. Will keep an eye and ear out for its progress. Wishing the film and you success!

The Bostonians

So I just had an amazing Q and A with a packed audience. Some pretty thoughtful thoughts including an interesting question about what the future of Islam might be....I guess all of the claustrophobic academia in this town and its ivy leaguey-ness produces ideas and intellectual curiosity....Regardless spent an amazing evening talking to an Indian architect working with MIT on a new design project for Jerusalem, another MIT professor working in visual design and a super engaging Shia Pakistani woman who is a professor of English, trying NOT to talk about the film (some success there)...we had just seen BRICK LANE-which I found remarkably engaging and thoughtful with many themes that are close to my heart and my experience of life (up until now atleast)-recommends it strongly, and just wished that the the gorgeous Bangali actress did not voice her letters to her sister in the film (an interstitial theme in the film) in accented English-when we write home sometimes we write in our own languages-my most heartfelt curses are always in Urdu or Hindi and sometimes even Punjabi or Bengali...
Here is an email from someone who just saw and liked the film-
"I just saw the screening of your film in Coolidge Corner, and I wanted to tell you that I think it's wonderful! I came with a friend of mine; we both saw "Trembling Before G-d" when it screened at Tufts University, and so we were very interested to see what "A Jihad for Love" would be like. It's so thought-provoking for me, because I am not secure in either my religious faith nor in my sexuality, so I can't quite grasp what it would be like to fiercely hold onto both...especially when they are so at odds with one another.
I am curious...did you ever get angry during the filming process? At one point, I think it was when the gay Imam was talking to the Quran scholar, the scholar said something to the effect of, people can't just interpret the Quran to suit their own personal beliefs...and I wanted to yell, "But isn't that what YOU'RE doing??" I am wondering if you experienced similar frustrations/anger, and if so, how you managed to handle that and still hold fast to your faith?
Thank you for making this film and being so generous with your time during the Q&A afterwards!


Boston 180

More than 180 people at the 7 15 show here tonight. They say the film is doing very well. Mostly a non-Muslim audience with a very intense and engaging discussion afterwards.
One comment-
"Your film is profound, complicated, layered, gentle and not angry. Thank you for making it."
Another one-
"Thank you so much for mediating this for the audience afterwards. Thank you for coming and talking to us-I dont think the experience of the film would be as rich if we did not have you talking to us later"
Lets now bring some Arabs, Muslims, Desis in tomorrow when there will be another Q&A.

Breaking News from Mohandessin in Cairo

I have another friend Yousry. (Different from the other amazing Yousry I just interviewed for a Mondoweiss exclusive) I have blogged about h...