George Clooney winks in Tehran...and Ava gets her US visa ; )

Ava writes again, and thanks everyone for making her entries so popular.

Post # 1

During the last weekend when I spent in Dubai, I realized that walking under the sun in 45 Celsius degree can be even pleasant when the wind is blowing your hair and you know that you are the only one to select your own outfit.

How limited this sense of freedom is, but it’s still enough to drag minimum 2000 Iranian nationals to Dubai per day.

The dominant culture in Dubai is defined in shining shopping malls and plastic luxury and it meets the needs of the neighbors who are deprived of any means of entertainment in the best way.

There were staying quiet a few bearded business men in our hotel who were staring at young Russian girls with their greedy eyes and were running to discotheques and night clubs every night, though they would prefer not to be seen and judged by other Iranians.

An old lady who had come to Dubai to apply for US visa to visit her children looked at those guys at breakfast table and said: “You already are the owner of our country, isn’t that enough?” The bearded guys stared at the old lady but didn’t dare to say anything.

I thought elderly people are braver than youngsters. They have nothing to lose and no one dares to punish them. So they might make a change in the world in future!

There were also a group of young religious Iranian girls staying in the hotel. They had kept their Hijab the whole time and were behaving the same as if they were in Iran.

They had received admission from American universities for PHD studies and had come to Dubai to apply for US visa. I was wondering whether they appear veiled in US consulate or they would give us a surprise by their double standard too.

The next morning I got really happy to see them with the same appearance. They were wearing the same hijab at the US consulate but I was ahead of them and couldn’t wait to see if visa was issued to them or not.

After two days all of us who had a reason to be in Dubai said good-bye to those golden castles and Ali baba villas and headed for Tehran.

After 2 hour delay, we arrived in Imam Khomeini airport at 2 am. Three flights had landed almost at the same time and it was a chaos at the airport. People were tired and had become aggressive. After we succeeded to get our luggage we faced 10 long queues to go through customs. We spent 2 more hours waiting for costume officers to search our luggage. Regardless of the big crowd, timing and overtiredness of the passengers, the costumes officers took their sweet time to search all baggages one by one and charge those whose shopping value had exceeded 80$. I could see the satisfaction in their frowning faces.

I saw that old lady standing ahead of me in the queue; she was cursing everyone from head to toe and people around her were laughing.

Among all those heads suddenly I saw those girls. “Did you get the visa?” I asked.

“Yes, we got it.” She said and I got very happy.

Before we chat about the visa and relevant stories, one of the girls pointed at the bearded guys at the beginning of the queue and said: “Look, they didn’t open their luggage!” “Only God knows how many trips they have made with government’s money.” She added.

When finally I made to get out of the airport after having waited for hours, I jumped into a cab and headed for home.

It was quiet and dark and the whole city was asleep. We passed by Khomeini’s golden shrine and it reminded me of all the gold and shines I had seen in the last few days.

Then I saw George Clooney standing in his huge billboard offering a golden Omega wrist watch. He smiled at me.

“Hi George….umm... I don’t believe in gold, Stop this gold business!” I told him.

He winked at me.

Post # 2

The best card shops in Tehran are located in Armenian-populated areas: Villa or Sanaee streets. You can also find some food shops owned by Armenians in that area, where they sell good quality snacks which are the best appetizers to be served with vodka. Armenian car mechanics are known to be the honest mechanics in town, while most of shop keepers take advantage of this good name to sell their goods in double prices.

Christians are the only minority, after the Islamic revolution, which are allowed to drink or make alcohol for their own use, which has consequently resulted in many of them having a side job as a wine or vodka maker or seller. Therefore everyone in the town who hunts for alcoholic drinks knows a Monsieur Sergic or Georgic or Vachik who makes and delivers forbidden drinks at doors.

One of my girl friends and me got into a gift shop. We were browsing through cards and small gifts when 2 ladies covering in black chador from head to toe came in. The only part of their entire body which was not covered in that hijab was their noses. If I were one of them I would have covered that nose and revealed another part.

“Why are the cards so expensive? They now cost double what they did before.” I asked.

The old shop keeper said: “Armenians need to make a living too!”

My girlfriend said: “He is a cheater and rude, let’s go to another shop.” Before leaving the shop we got surprised by this question: “Why didn’t Monsieur Serjic show up last night?” Nose number 1 asked.

Me and my friend looked at each other; I could see 2 big exclamation marks in my friend’s eyes. “Have they ordered vodka?” And that was the big question of both of us.

“He will bring it tonight; the job was not done yet.” Monsieur said.

We couldn’t leave the shop anymore, so we pretended that we are still searching.

“Tomorrow is my eldest son’s birthday and I wanted to ask your wife to make a few nice dishes for us.” Nose number 2 said and our eyes were about to jump out of the socket. After Monsieur passed her message to his wife he said that his wife wanted to make an appointment with one of the ladies in Clinic.

At this moment Nose 2’s mobile rang and she answered: “That’s not an urgent case, I have 2 caesarian surgeries tomorrow morning; we’ll do that on Tuesday.” Nose 1 said: “Tuesday morning we are doing a hysterectomy, but the afternoon is free.”

I looked at them all over and noticed their simple dusty shoes. Gynecologist was the last profession I could have ever imagined for them.

Normally strict Muslims refrain from buying food from Non- Muslims but this deal was an exception.

Our big question was still not answered: “What Sergic was supposed to bring to her house?” My girlfriend said: “If I find out that the guy was supposed to get them alcoholic drinks, I’ll say it to their face and make them embarrassed of their black chador.” With a big smile, she went to the Nose 1 and said: “Hello ladies, how interesting to see you order food in a card shop!”

Nose 1 said: “Yes, we know this family for years; Monsieur Leon’s wife is a great cook.”

“Since when strict Muslims eat Christians' food?” My friend asked.

Both noses said: “purify your heart and it will be all right!”

Monsieur laughed and we left the shop.

I was thinking if you ever ask an Armenian “Where are you from?” They always say: I’m Armenian, even though their preceding ten generations have been born and raised in Iran and they know it the best how to integrate in the society. Kurds would give the same answer to the same question: “I am Kurdish.” None of the groups would ever say it is Iranian or from Iran.

I remember once after hearing that sentence, I said to a Kurdish: “Oh…I’ve been in your country, what a nice place!”

After half an hour window shopping, on the way back we faced the same ladies, Monsieur and another guy in the street. They were standing next to a car.

He was Sergic who had repaired and brought back their car. The ladies looked at us and smiled.

We got embarrassed.


The Kids Keep Writing!

I must say that after my experience at the High School in Chicago last week, I have a lot of hope for America. If these young men and women go on to have a stake in the future of this country and if they do not constitute an anomaly in the nationwide High School demographic...there is tremendous hope. And yes, they would make a group of very interesting pundits on cable news...on this, yet another debate night...And now that it is clear that Islam is one of the hottest topics in this election season, their comments on this film and indeed Islam are important to read.

From Maliha
Dear Mr. Sharma,
I would like to congratulate you on making such an outstanding documentary and I would like to thank you for presenting your years of hard work to Senn High School.
I was astonished when you stated that you were nervous to talk a room full of students because I thought you did a wonderful job and you did not look nervous at all. I was very much interested in the topic of your documentary and the thoughts the people had on homosexuality.
Ever since I was little, I was taught not to judge a person under any circumstances whether it is a persons skin color, race, gender etc. I feel that this documentary will help people not judge others. God has created everyone differently for a reason and I think that no one should question nor judge another person.
I hope the message that you are trying to deliver spreads throughout the world and creates a positive change. I wish you all the best with your documentary and I hope to see another work of yours in the upcoming years.

From Maab:
I want to begin by saying thank you for coming to our school and for creating such an inspiring film. You did an amazing job!
Being a Muslim myself, I’m aware of the controversies revolving the idea of homosexuality and the phobia that exists. However, I didn’t know about it being mentioned in the Quran and people using that to condemn it.
There’s a saying in Islam that I heard multiple times that says homosexual relationships shake the throne of god. I think that is quite ironic because if that is true, why would god create people that way? I personally believe that homosexuality is something you’re born with, which questions the validity of it being a sin. Well I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really know whether homosexuality is a sin or not, but I know that at the end, it’s the person and their god and I have no right to judge that person.
Again, I’d like to thank you for coming to Senn and sharing your ideas. You’re a true inspiration because you stood up for what you believed in despite the opposing viewpoints and controversies that might have created for you. Great job!


The Best Little High School in the World

From the students:
Email 1
Hey Mr. Parvez!!
I just wanted to inform you that your visit to Senn was amazing! I'm glad that I got the opportunity to see your documentary because it informed me of an issue that I consider important. I admire your courage to stand up for what you believe and fight for what you think is right. I found A Jihad for Love a touching documentary that opened my eyes to the struggle of homosexual Muslims. I just wanted you to know that I respect you and that I believe that your film will spread courage to those who are still hidden and who think that they can “cure” themselves with prayer. I believe that your film has not only reached homosexual Muslims but also other people that don't accept themselves for who they are. I believe that in the end we are all humans, no matter what religion, ethnicity, or sexuality. Thank you for making such an inspiring movie.

Email 2

Hello Mr. Sharma.I was one of the students there at the film screening and I have to say that, as a film, it was incredibly engaging.As a documentary, the themes and issues it presented are mind boggling. I've never liked Islam because there are things in it that seem beyond demanding. I just find it intriguing, some of its rituals are fascinating, or the symbology is. However, I respect those who do believe in it.
It makes me wonder if these homosexual people will ever find a middle ground to their struggle. In the film one of the women said that she couldn't be like that because it is evil but then she still loves that other woman. So it makes me think if they will continue their lives like that, always aware that what they are is a sin, how will they reconcile themselves with their religion?
I am glad I got the chance to see this movie because that kind of dilemma happens in every religion just because every religion considers homosexuality a sin. I imagine that is a fine line not just muslim people have to walk.
Thank you for taking the opportunity and time to come to my school.

Email 3
That was quite an experience that I will never forget. It really did open my eyes to so many other things that are going on in this crazy world of ours. I understand that the whole idea of homosexuality is forbidden in any religion, but what is really complex for my mind to wrap around is the teachings of loving one another. I mean, isn't that what most religions teach to the thousands of years of generations? Why isn't that those who have created the written words think twice on not making such a contradiction with the message being told?Perhaps they weren't trying to find a contradiction and many scholars throughout the centuries have MADE it difficult for anyone to get a grasp and to fully understand what is being taught.Eh, I probably didn't make a lot of sense with my babbling but it was something I wanted to bring about.Once again, thank you so much for coming to Senn and showing us this remarkable film.
Paolina G.

From a teacher, after yesterdays event and talk:

Parvez, thank you...for visiting our High School, for making such an important film, and for sharing with us your insights on its creation and, more importantly, on its themes. This was an educational experience my students and I will not soon forget.
I cannot believe you were nervous to speak in front of high school students; there are many veteran teachers who are less engaging than you were yesterday. These students are used to 45-minute classes filled with a variety of instructional techniques; but after sitting silently through an 81-minute film, they remained engaged for nearly another hourwhile you responded to their questions - and not a single paper airplane adorned the skies :) You're a natural.
It is unrealistic, I think, to expect that our Muslim (and non-Muslim) students will all come to accept the reconciliation of homosexuality and Islam (or any religious orthodoxy), though some may do so. I am confident that all of the students, however, learned the more powerful lessons that we can disagree while still engaging in civil discourse, and that we must not fail to acknowledge the human consequences that accompany our beliefs. We saw those lessons applied in the respectful and engaging discussion that followed the screening.


Ahlan Chicago

So here I am in Chicago and will update you all soon. Today I will speak at a High School where 25 percent of the students are Muslim! And then at the University of Chicago, where unlike Michigan, the MSA refused to participate. Inshaallah they will show up.

Some more emails:
# 1
Hi Parvez, indeed it was a fabulous night and Gabe did a great job. Thank you for having directed A Jihad fo Love, it took a lot of time, bravery and generosity to get to such a brilliant result... it's amazing.
Two questions for you: is it easy to broadcast this documentary in Muslim countries? Then, the document seems to suggest that atheism is just not an option. is it because you wanted to focus only on muslims with faith or because it is much too difficult to be openly atheist in Muslim countries?
Thank you for your attention,

# 2
I admire you greatly you have a great sense of faith and courage. It takes a lot to stand up for who you are and what you believe in.

# 3 (and RICH, I am not from this film ; (
Do you claim to be an expert on knowing whether gays are interested in religion or not? Most queers are religious/spiritual beings. They are not welcomed in one place they should be, as should all outcasts of society...and that's in a place of worship. Because God doesn't discriminate, people do. Neither Jesus nor the Prophet rejected those on the fringes of society or a minority...they embraced them. Also, what's the connection between a documentary and getting rich off of Islam bashing?

and the lovely # 4:
You will be stoned in the after life.
faggot poop eating sissy boy.


"Thank you for humanizing Islam..."

150 students and faculty showed up to watch, debate and discuss at the 1929 building of the Michigan League in Ann Arbor last night. The University of Michigan Campus had put together an excellent program.
One of the key members of the Muslim Students Association, Mohammed Safi, offered by way of introduction to the evening- a case for why theologically, Islam and homosexuality cannot be reconciled. He started with prayer and armed with Quran, also offered particular evidence of why this was not possible. Interestingly, he also made a case for civil discourse.
I was deeply touched by his presence as well as the presence of other members of the MSA who came and stayed for an intense discussion that followed, right after they finished their Maghrib prayers. Some of them were missing a meeting of their Executive Board.
Out of everything that Mohammed said, this stays-
"Thank you Parvez for humanizing Islam (and Muslims)..."
What also remains is our civil discussion based on his opinion that the two can never be reconciled (Islam and homosexuality).
Also present was another young Muslim man-Amer Ahmed, who is also a spoken word artist-and can be found at www.dawahpoet.com. Amer spoke eloquently, as a co-sponsor but again left me with a heart warming thank you and a CD of his own work.
"Parvez, I am so glad that you (as a Muslim) made this film. I am afraid of what could have happened f this subject matter had fallen into the wrong hands"

A big thank you to Gabe and the Spectrum Center, who worked so hard to include the Muslim students on this 40,000 strong campus and spread the word.


Interesting Email on Race

Dear Parvez
I read your delightful essay on the Unbearable Whiteness of Being on the
Huffington Post. Yes, White Supremacy is tightly woven into the fabric
of America and I am afraid, that even after Barack Obama gets elected,
that fabric is unlikely to unravel, at least in my lifetime. Much like
the apartheid of caste and class in Indian society, racism in the US
breaths freely and unchecked, under the surface of supposed integration
of the races into the proverbial but imaginary melting pot.
I am originally from India and have lived in the Pacific Northwest for
over 40 years. Much has changed in my lifetime. Racism that was very
overt when I first got here is now below the surface. But the most
profound sea change that I have seen is the rapid increase in the
non-white population and the concomitant change in the master narrative
of what being an American means. That is what Barack Obama represents.
The world has changed. The homogenous has now been replaced by
heterogonous flavors (no pun intended here). White Supremacy will
persist, but we will have an option to build communities where class and
color are happily embraced. I reside in a community of friends of all
colors who are very mindful and informed on the deceptions of White
Supremacy. How do we as individuals, aid and abet the furtherance of
that deceit? Many in our own immigrant Indian communities have carried
our bigotries from the birth country and transmogrified them into a
license to practice unfettered discrimination against African Americans
in this country? Many of us like to be trophy friends in a room full of
well heeled white power brokers. When we are the only people of color
in this room, we need to question our own motives.
I am myself a filmmaker and would like to see your film Jihad for Love.
Please do let me know how I may be able to obtain a copy of your DVD.
Keep up the good work. I look forward to hearing from you
Many Thanks

Ramadan in Tehran...

Ava, has been writing more from Tehran-and here are two latest posts. She writes with such honesty and in some ways is a perfect window through a 'female gaze' into Tehrani life today. Please read and post your feedback here or send it to me, as you have all been doing (and I will forward your messages to her).


It was around Iftar time and I was waiting in my car for one of my girl friends. She was standing in a restaurant's long queue to buy some take away food. All restaurants and eating- houses get quite busy at this time in Ramadan because none of them is allowed to sell or serve food to people; even to children, pregnant women and non Muslims before Iftar.. Drinking, eating or smoking in public violate the Ramadan ban and is considered as a crime.

Behind car windows, I could see people sitting behind the tables, listening to the prayer from radio with their lips busy murmuring while they were waiting for the Azan to start eating.

“Will you please move your car a bit?” A small boy around 7-8 years old whose back was bent under a huge white sack asked me. He had collected lots of dirty used plastic stuff out of people’s trash to sell them as recycled wastes and make money. My heart shrank. His face was red and I could see his jaw and face muscles were tense because of that heavy burden he was carrying on his small arch-shape back.

I moved my car and said: “Do you want me to get you some food?”

“No, I’ve got some, God bless you.” he said and slowly went away.

I turned and looked at the people who had already started eating.

“Heh…What a spiritual moment!! Hopefully we will be all blessed and forgiven. Shame on me, shame on you, shame on all of us.” This was how I felt at that moment.

Suddenly I replaced my own kid’s face with that boy’s face and couldn’t stop my tears anymore.

I haven’t seen my son for more than a month. Since the custody of the child goes to the father according to Islamic civil law, he lives with his father. Every Thursday his father wishes not to bring him to me, he comes up with an excuse and sends him away and takes my only chance to see my own son. I know I’m not the only one but that doesn’t reduce the pain. I can make a legal case of it in the court and fight for it, but I’m sure that it just makes the situation worse and more complicated. I’ve decided to cope with the situation because I cannot imagine him coming with his father back and forth to the court and see me there desperately crying. I’ll cry alone and share my feelings with you, what are friends for?

Finally my friend picked up some food and we went home. Far away from the spiritual moods, we had our dinner and watched a French movie; something that threw us in another world and space: Diving bell and butterfly.

Later at night I was home watching the news and reading papers at the same time. I was glancing over pages and surfing on the words that some pictures took my attention, the photos of 10 juveniles. At first I thought they were top students of the year or the Olympiad champions but I got awfully shocked after I read only the beginning of the article.

They were all executed because of the crime they had committed during their adolescence. One of them had killed his friend during a fight over his dove.

Their faces will remain in my mind forever. They looked too shy in the photos. They have now rested in peace without having to demand for justice. But where the dove is flying to now?

I lit up my cigarette and went to the balcony. I looked at the high buildings around me and looked down to the street. It was late and quiet, though some young boys were standing in a corner chatting and laughing.

I reminded this Ahmad Shamloo’s poem:

I turn down from veranda to the dark alley and cry for all the oppressed in the world.


Most of my friends and the people I know suffer from unpleasant relationships in their marriages. They’ve either broken up or about to break up. I hardly see any happy couple around me. Most of the recent marriages come to an end before the first anniversary, and they end up in court and have to go back and forth this road three times more than the period of the marriage. The only friend of mine who succeeded to divorce with full agreement and with less trouble is still living with her ex in the same house after 6 years of her divorce. Given the high prices to rent a place in Tehran none of them could afford to pay the rent on their own. Perhaps this is a similar story in all societies. People are looking for a right match and then when they think they have found it; they look for the easiest and fastest way to get out of it. Although there’s no fast way in Iran and most of the divorce cases take ages to finalize, unless the woman gives up all her legal rights and gets herself out of the marriage.

According to the statistics since divorce cases take long time to be taken over by the court, the number of women who committed suicide or killed their husbands have increased in the last few years. But surprisingly a group of genius parliamentarians passed a bill in PEOPLES HOUSE to allow men to have a second wife without their first wife's consent. I wonder while our young generation who forms 60% of the population is far behind the costs of a normal decent living and further more not able to pay the rent and form a simple family, why our parliamentarians come up with the idea of promoting polygamy?

Sometimes I feel we are living in medieval era or standing out of space. In this ironic society where I live, nothing is allowed yet everything is possible. Having sexual relationship out of a marriage is considered as a big crime which could lead to stoning to death. But our parliamentarians might have thought that by passing this bill and expanding the size of the family men and women won’t have affairs or commit a so called immoral action. I think they’ve forgotten this old saying: A Haram one always tastes better!

But regardless of the rules and regulations, how far are we allowed to interfere in people’s privacy? Which point is to be achieved by polygamy? Except one more step to be taken against the women’s rights and women’s rights activists!

And of course this hot topic of the last week and protest of the women’s rights activists in front of the Parliament were not important enough to be reflected in the State media. Although the government spokesman openly attacked the State television for having acted independently and not supporting the government enough!

Instead, in the other part of the world where people’s privacy is expected to be respected more than in my country; the hottest news is the pregnancy of the daughter of Republican Governor of Alaska! And no wonder this woman knows how to take advantage of her family problems to win people's hearts.

By all these extremist rulers either from East or West, where the world is leading to?

I was thinking and asking these questions from myself while I was walking toward the office at the first day of Ramadan.

When I entered the building the first thing that took my attention was the fog and the heavy smoke which was standing half a meter down the ceiling. I got into the corridor and looked around and saw nobody. Only a couple of colleagues were standing in a corner.

“Hi, where is everybody?” I asked one of them.

“Happy Ramadan! They are around.” One of them answered.

When I opened the ladies room to wash my hands, I saw all my female colleagues hiding there. Some were biting their sandwiches and some were smoking!

-“May your prayers and fasting be fulfilled.” I said that and laughed.

-“Same as yours.


A voice from Tehran

Once again, I reproduce a diary entry from my friend Ava, who blogs from Tehran.

Today I was thinking what to write on my weblog for the coming week. I was thinking of the crazy party I attended last night and was also watching the news at the same time. Accompanying an old friend of mine I went to a party 50 km away from Tehran in a luxurious villa surrounded by mountains. When we finally found the place and got there everyone was already stoned. When I left the place before everyone else, I looked at them wearing posh clothes with extraordinary heavy make-ups and felt something is going wrong. I didn’t say good-bye to anyone. The house music was too loud to even hear any other voice and no one was conscious either. In the parking lot I saw all the brand new cars which were all bought by their wealthy parents and asked my self: “What are they trying to say through this self-destruction?”

I didn’t want to think about it anymore and started watching the news of the State television and then switched to Iranian news channels from United States which are produced by Iranian residents of The States.

I hardly tolerate all these channels. The American ones are more based on their wishes and dreams than reality. It’s amazing that after all these years, they still interview Shah’s doctor and ask him to explain Shah’s health condition during the Revolution! And the Iranian media regardless of the reality and audience’s needs reports what it is ordered because it is to the best interest of the society.

“Some people nag out of boredom but everything is under control and everybody is happy and our politicians have paved all the ways to help improve the country more than ever and everything is going to be all right.”

This is the general impression of our media and daily papers. However compared to last Ramadan there is a250% inflation on price of Domsiah rice according to Etemad newspaper.

Today at 14:00 hours news I saw a western journalist was interviewing our president. He asked about Iran’s role and it’s influence on the Middle East and our president replied: ‘What’s America doing here? Tell me where is Bin-laden?” and the journalist said: “Where?” And then our president said: “Where?” And the journalist said: “Where?” They looked at each other and smiled and no comment was needed! I though should we really follow the news? I left home for the petrol station.

I couldn’t stop reading the paper while I was waiting an hour in petrol queue and some headlines got my attention:

A young actress's passport was confiscated at the airport when she intended to leave the country in order to play a role in an American film!

And 200 parliament members and a few high clergy men signed a letter asking the government to punish president's advisor for his positive comment on Israeli citizens and so on….I asked myself: do those young boys and girls I saw last night care about this news? Do they know what’s going on in the world? I concluded that they were satisfied if they could forget the reality and at the end they would say “We did it! In spite of all restrictions we made it.” And that makes them happy.

When it was finally my turn to fill gas, they ran out of petrol. I got off my car and went inside to check when it was less busy to come back. The young boy said: “Come back around 5.” I said: “Okay, see you in a bit.” And got into my car, then he shouted: “No, I meant 5 in the morning!”

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...