Love Jihadi, Parvez Sharma Blogs Here

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Parvez Sharma also blogs at The Huffington Post,

Parvez writes for The Guardian

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30.4.08

BACK IN AMREEKA !

Most places in the so called 'East/ Third World/ Global South' (categories I disagree with) call this land where I live 'Amreeka'.

Many have asked why I continue living here. I do still believe in the hope of the American Dream. And I know so does Obama. If he gets the nomination, I cannot wait to see Republican Ad campaigns where the graphic will dissolve slowly from Osama to Obama. This is a very interesting year to be in Amreeka and for me, with a green card application pending-an interesting year to release this film.

So I came back on Friday from a seven nation tour that ended with winning the best documentary award at a gay film festival in Turin, Italy.
I went straight to Washington, DC where I was able to show the film to more than a hundred young and enthusiastic Amnesty International volunteers crowded into a screening room, where we projected on double screens. A 45 minute question and answer session followed and also in the audience was Ajaz Ahmed from Kashmir (he corrected me when I said he was from India). Ajaz was vocal with what we in the West would easily label his 'homophobia'. He looked at me in this packed room and said-'Parvez, now Islam is under attack-so people can say that Muslims are theives, liars, prostitutes, terrorists and gay and lesbian'. The audience giggled nervously. I chose to engage Ajaz in conversation and congratulated him on his courage of speaking out in a room where not one person would agree with him. His logic was exceptional because he was fundamentally aware of the Islamophobia of the times we live in. He was also exceptional in including the word 'terrorists' in the same old Adam and Steve like argument that the Christian Church spouts. I will always remember Ajaz, with his Wahabi style beard and his red t-shirt. I hope he takes back to India, a better understanding of our complicated Islamic universe.

I went on to a small liberal arts college of 1600 students near Austin, Texas. An amazing discussion followed and I was surprised with the intellectual curiosity of these young undergraduates after they saw the film. Many have written in and I will reproduce their comments. We spoke about Obama, about Islam, about the Media and Islam and indeed about the theology that I have fronted with humanity, in this film. Dr. Hina Azam, an Islamic Scholar at UT, Austin joined me. She loved the film but wondered how convincing Muhsin's theological revisionism would be in a roomful of Wahabi or Tabliqi scholars. I do not know the answer to that. I know I am hopeful and pessimistic at the same time.

Today I find myself 45 minutes from Lynchburg, Virginia-the infamous town that was home to that most famous homophobe of all-Jerry Falwell, RIP. I hope I will get invited to engage his students at Liberty in some kind of dialogue, in the near future.

Meanwhile I am preparing to speak at a small girls only college of 700. Hollins University nestles in the Roanoke valley in scenic surroundings. Maybe, nothing ever happens here. I may well be the only gay Muslim on this campus.

My friends-these are exciting times.

Now for some comments:
I just saw a Jihad for Love at the Southwestern University screening and I wanted to send you an e-mail to say that I was absolutely blown away by the stories of sadness, tragedy, guilt, anger, survival, acceptance, and love that were told on an incredibly personal level. I hope that American audiences can view this film and see the universality of the struggle that gay and lesbian individuals face in cultures that are pervaded by religion, regardless of what that religion happens to be and regardless of how overt or subtle the religious influence is in that culture. I also hope that Americans can see this film and understand that the vast majority of Muslim people are as ?normal? as any Westerner?they are simply people trying to carve out a life for themselves both inside and outside of the society that they happened to be born in to. The time has come for the West to stop blindly accepting the 'terrorist' image of Islam and this film will certainly be a huge step in that direction.

I wish you well on your endeavor to promote this film throughout the U.S. and the world. Im very excited for it to come out in theaters, and I would be absolutely thrilled if it were shown in Austin (or anywhere in Texas, really). Thank you for breaking some of the silence surrounding gay and lesbian experiences and for challenging preconceived notions of Islam. Ill be looking out for this film in theaters. I think Texans need to hear what you have to say and Austin is the perfect place to begin.

Best,
Megan

Jihad writes:

It was a pleasure meeting you both at Amnesty's previewing of Jihad for Love. It was a well done documentary, very respectful of the Islamic faith and the strivings of LGBT Muslims to find balance in their faith and sexual identities. I wish you much success with the movie's US tour.

There are hundreds of other emails and I promise to post them all on here. Many can be seen if you just click on comments at the end of every post. A significant amount of press has also been happening and here are a few links.

The Hour,
Variety
The Advocate (my own first person account of making the film)
A Momentous Muslim Debut (from FILM STEW)
PlanetOut
GayCity News (Philadelphia)
PR Newswire
Daily Star Lebanon
Screen Daily (Singapore)
AHN Miami
Cinematical

Finally, we are opening on May 21st at the IFC Center in NYC. I will be giving all of you constant updates on the theatrical run of the film across the United States and Canada. Now IS the time to galvanize around this film and its Jihad. Everyone you know, needs to come and see and support the film and its remarkable subjects. We will need to fill up the theaters everywhere we go and in these difficult times for theatrical distribution of documentaries, all of you are going to make sure that this film is as successful here in North America, as it has been in 15 nations worldwide.

22.4.08

BEST DOCUMENTARY AWARD IN TURIN-OUR FIFTH AWARD

Five hundred people in two screenings. A man comes up to me and says, 'Here in Italy-we dont like Muslims. That is why we need to see this film'.
Another man has a Moroccan boyfriend for seven years. His boyfriend is married to a woman and thinks that being gay is 'haram'. He wishes that his boyfriend would have seen Jihad-but coming to see the film at a gay film festival would be too much for him.
Interesting conversations with a filmmaker from Tehran who tells me that during Naurooz this year, Ahmadinejad saw it fit to screen 'There will be Blood' on Iranian TV, repeatedly. We have been talking about 'the life surreal' in Tehran.
The journey of Jihad continues.
AND YES, 'JIHAD' HAS WON THE BEST DOCUMENTARY AWARD AT THE TURIN GAY AND LESBIAN FILM FESTIVAL. THIS MEANS THE FILM HAS ALREADY WON FIVE PRESTIGIOUS INTERNATIONAL AWARDS

21.4.08

Muhammad of Donostia

He wept the first night when we saw the Chinese film, 'Blind Mountain' which is about a woman sold into marriage in Northern China.
He sobbed when he saw 'Jihad', looking deep into my eyes and saying it was about his life.
Muhammad has just arrived in the little paradise of San Sebastian-for six months he has walked the streets of Spanish cities, a refugee and penniless. He fled Mauritania, one of six countries with Sharia in a shipping container and lost more than half of his body weight. When his family in Mauritania found out he was gay, his father beat him with iron rods-he showed me the marks. They would not let him eat at the family table and he would sit by the door, like a 'dog', he says.
In Spain, he hopes to find home.
I hope he will.
He said to me, 'Parvez, 'rich' people like you never talk to us, in Spain'.
I carry Muhammad in my heart as I arrive in Torino, on the last leg of this journey of Jihad, in Europe (a journey that is just beginning).

My friend, Asif has just arrived in Palestine. He is sending remarkable posts from the frontlines of an apartheid policy and a nation I have clearly decided not to show the film in, till the occupation continues. I will be reproducing them here and I do wish him luck.


Ahlan wa sahlan to Settler Saturday...

Ahlan wa sahlan (welcome) is a phrase every person uses around here, especially if you speak little Arabic an they speak little English. It's a good thing to say whenever there is a lull in the conversation and you are at someone's home and having the obligatory tea/coffee (you can't say no around here).

So I say it many times between sips of very hot and very sweet brew. People are always amazed here that I don't speak Arabic. Also, Asif means "im sorry" around here, so when I say my name, I always get a puzzled look and then usually some sort of laughter. I remember this in Toronto at Uni, but every single person I meet here says the same thing when I introduce myself.

Of course nobody really believes me that I'm from Canada, so when I say "hindi", there is usually excited look on their faces cuz now they can practice all of the "bollywood" phrases on me and talk about Amitabh Bachhan, and Shah Ruhk Khan etc.

That being said…Good morning from Nablus. Hope you are all well and enjoying the wonderful spring weather back at home or wherever you are.

So far it has been wonderful here, the people at the Project and local volunteers are really amazing. I have an hour before my Arabic lesson (part of the service Project hope provides) so I had a few minutes to write to you all.

I went to Yanoun this weekend on a short trip. Yanoun is a small village of about 100 farmers in the Northern West bank that is surrounded by illegal settlements and outposts. A few years ago, setters started to come into the village to harass the local residents into leaving the land they had worked on for generations. Now when I mean harass, I mean walking around with machine guns, beating up men in front of their children, killing their sheep, swimming in their well with their dogs, destroying their electricity generator. The setters usually come on Saturdays, during the Shabat.

"Nearly all residents in the upper Yanoun evacuated the village in October 2002. They soon began to return accompanied by Israeli and international activists of all faiths, outraged at the situation. Since then, a house in the village has been home to a permanent, voluntary international presence. Since 2003, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestne and Israel has provided the presence. (EAPPI)".

Yanoun is considered part of Area "C" which means it is "under the full security and administrative responsibility of Israel. The villagers feel they have never been offered any protection by anyone." The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to have any forces in this area.

The EAPPI works in teams of 4 and stays in Yanoun for 3 months. On weekends other internationals go to relieve them for a few hours or a day or two so they can go to Nablus or other areas of the region for meetings etc. This time they were headed to Nablus for the Samartin Passover ritual at Mt. Gerazim. For more on the Samaritin community (the only place one can get liquor in Nablus) please see the following link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan

Yanoun is a very pretty village, and the people are very hospitable although unsure when you first arrive if you are a settler or not. Jacob from the EAPPI started to show us around and introduce us to some of the villagers and then had to leave for Nablus. As we were drinking tea at Kemal's house, he got a phone call. His wife (whom we had assumed spoke no English) turned to us and said: "Settler's are coming". It had not been more then 15 minutes since the EAPPI had left! We quickly said our goodbyes and went outside to see what our visitors were up to. We, turned a corner and low and behold saw 3 settlers dressed in white turning the corner. Behind them was the EAPPI who had just left, but decided to accompany the "visitors" back. They looked pretty harmless, except they had machine guns around them and looked pretty annoyed to see us. I went to watch the well (where they had tried to swim the week before but could nott fit so they decided to strip down to their underwear and shower in plain sight of a traditional Muslim village.)

The settlers walked through the olive grove and up towards their outpost at the top of the hill (outposts are usually at the top of the hills so they can monitor the land they are occupying). They asked that their picture not be taken and then gestured something that looked like a finger towards us…and off they went. So they were not really violent (perhaps because we were there) but they did achieve their goal to prove to the sheepherders that they could walk through their land without any repercussions. Note: if any one of the village folk steps onto the settler's "land" to run after a stray sheep, they can be shot or arrested for trespassing.

As the sun goes down, a quiet night approaches the village. It is almost perfect, except the huge spotlights which shine down on Yanoun from the settler outposts, so even while the villagers sleep, their every move is monitored from the hills.

So far, the international presence has deterred any major attacks by the settlers but they cannot be there forever, so it is a sad reality that Yanoun will face the same fate as so many defenseless places in Palestine.

It's important to note that not one setter has been harmed my resident of Yanoun. In fact there is a story of when the settlers first started coming to Yanoun, a local offered them tea and said : "ahlan wa sahlan "

It didn't go over so well, but I think you already knew that.


Ma' salaama


Asif

16.4.08

ATTACK

An anonymous man who does not name himself (I assume it is a man, since we were in Turkey) has decided to leave this choice comment on every post of this blog. I reproduce it for you.

Allahın Laneti sizin ve lut kavmi gibilerinin üzerine olsun.

May God's curse be upon you and people like the Lut tribe!


Interzone from Ankara says:
Long ago a friend from Holland said to me: "Holland is not heaven". He was right. It seems like, heaven is a relative aspect on this. On the other hand, even the comment above, proves Mehmet's words.

We are not searching for heaven, we want to free the world from hatred and fear.

Banu Guven, the popular Turkish TV Presenter interviewed me on her show (as I was on my way to the airport yesterday).

And finally, DORIAN JONES does an excellent feature on the film for Voice of America
Documentary About Muslim Homosexuals Screened at Turkish Film Festival

Also SABOOR KHAN has this to say:
This film is contradicting itself and I am really confused! Please can you clarify to me how you can suggest when this is one of the fundamentals of Islam since it has been clearly portrayed in the story of Prophet Lot (peace be upon him) in the Quran, and mentioned also in several Hadith, and furthermore is agreed upon all the major scholars. How can some people decided to change things and start a new interpretation of a faith and then label the rest of the religion as extreme or intolerant. I am a Muslim, but Islam does not tell me to be intolerant to homosexuals, it just says that one is not a Muslim if one is homosexual. Please also consider the following Hadith which has been widely accepted by all the scholors:

Abdullah bin Amar (RA) relates that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said "Surely things will happen to my people as happened earlier to Israelites, they will resemble each other like one shoe in a pair resembles the other to the extent that if anyone among the Israelites has openly committed adultery to his mother there will be some who will do this in my Ummah as well, verily the Israelites were divided into 72 sections but my people will be divided into 73 sections, all of them will be in the fire except one." The companions asked, 'Who are they O Messenger of Allah,' Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "They are those who will be like me and my companions."

Truly the Prophet or his companions were not homosexual.

Please kindly respond.


Sabah has done another little feature which is here and translates as:

'I was scared, I took a deep breath with the applause'
One of the most contraversial films of the 27th International Istanbul Film Festival that will go on until April 20th was "A Cihad for Love" by Parvez Sharma of Indian origin, which discusses the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims. Director Sharma, who himself is also gay said: "I was very scared before coming to Istanbul. But I came across an incredible audience that applauded me. I took a deep breath". Turkey is the first Muslim country that the film was shown.




15.4.08

"TURKEY IS NOT HEAVEN"

These are the words of Mehmet Tarhan, a dear man, in reaction to the film. Mehmet is what they call a conscientious objector in Turkey. He took on the might of the Turkish army and its policy of disallowing gay men from compulsory army service if they can prove they are gay.
Mehmet does not like Jihad, because he feels it could take a more activist and anti-Islam/anti-Turkey stand.
Mehmet and I have spent some time together in Turkey. I had also interviewed Mehmet for the film in 2005 when he was still in a Siwas prison.
The second screening of Jihad yesterday in Beyoglu was an even greater achievement. Scheduled for a non-prime time screening of 11 am by the IKSV festival, it drew an overflowing audience (close to 500 people) who stayed back for a powerful and intellectually stimulating Q and A.
The reactions to my kaffiyeh (the Palestinian scarf) continue and are varied. More updates to follow.

14.4.08

'A JIHAD FOR LOVE' opens in Istanbul

More than 400 people packed the Beyoglu theater yesterday in a SOLD OUT screening of 'A Jihad for Love'. It was an intense and diverse audience with a spectrum of views. An intense Q and A followed with Muhs, Mazen, Ferda, Kiymet and myself. My wonderful co-director of Cinematography Berke Bas and producer Sandi DuBowski joined us as well.
The second screening is in two hours. Turkey's two largest newspapers 'HURIYET' and 'SABAH' have done full page stories on the film and here they are:
Bu cihat aşk için - Hürriyet (This Jihad is For Love)

Önce Müslümanız sonra eşcinsel

And for some bizzare reason a Turkish website insists that Al-Qaeda is looking for me!

11.4.08

Tekyön and the travelling Kaffiyeh

Turkey and its many walls of silence are immense. Last night, in a repeat of anti-Kurdish sentiment the burly bouncer at Tekyön (one way) the sweaty and raunchy 'gay bar' in Beyoglu asked me to take off my Kaffiyeh. Its green and it has had many travels around the world (I will share them soon) but here in Turkey, clearly the land of the not so free-it evokes a different sentiment. The gay bar can have an entire wall with a mural of four hirsute Turks holding up a pride flag, but the Kaffiyeh is a problem.
The festival says, they need to take extra precautions with security while we are here.
Have just spent the whole afternoon with a wise and wonderful Turkish journalist friend, who wants to leave- he says the situation has never been this bad and 'anything can happen'. The Kemalists fear an Iran style revolution. The Islamists andd the ruling AKP (
Ah Kay Pay for the un-initated) have been asked to shut down. The Army watches. So for the Turks-is there only ONE WAY (Tek Yön) out of this mess?
Let us see what Jihad brings on Sunday.
Yakshamlar!

9.4.08

AŞK İÇİN CİHAT

ISTANBUL- City of my dreams. So much has happened here and now I return with all of that work from three years ago.
It is so wonderful to be back in the comforting sounds of the ricocheting Azaans from all over the Bosphorous and the Camii's.
I am, in so many ways, back 'home'...

8.4.08

SINGAPORE BAN FALLOUT

Hundreds of emails are pouring in. The Jakarta Post has headlined the ban.
Please click on comments on each post to see comments, but this priceless one, one of many is what I want to reproduce. How do we reply to him (I assume he belongs to the male gender). He does not have the courage to identify himself I assume?

"All Praise be to Allah that your film is banned.

There is no homosexuality in Islam.

We pray that people like you will return to the Straight Path and undo the grievous damage that you have caused to Islam."

5.4.08

'A JIHAD FOR LOVE' IS BANNED IN SINGAPORE

Singapore censors say four films banned from film festival (FROM AFP)

CENSORS BAN 'JIHAD' IN SINGAPORE

We have just received word that the Censor Board in Singapore has refused to approve the film for the Singapore Film Festival. They have in their words 'disallowed' it. The Festival was trying very hard to get the film approved by the censors. This small nation, where I have many friends, has a small but significant Muslim minority. In many of the descriptions of this antiseptic shopping paradise, what is often missed is that an almost fascist regime controls every aspect of life. I promise to keep you updated.

In Copenhagen, the film has been received with warmth and excitement. Muhsin commented that the nation was in many ways 'God-less'. This is true, because in Denmark, religion is often seen as a destructive and alien force. Another friend commented on this nation where 'there are no curtains'. I looked, and indeed many curtainless windows make me wonder if religion does not have even a private space? The press was overwhelming. Here are a few links.

On Danish TV, the extremely popular newsmagazine DEADLINE did an interview with me.

Muhsin and I were extensively interview and profiled on POLITIKEN with an amazing and telling photography by Miriam Dalsgaard, on DRTV's leading programme (above), on BERLINGSKE.
Also an interview with Christian Erin-Madsen from the same paper is here

And the leading newspaper, INFORMATION put Muhsin and myself on the Front Page in a feature here

Here are some comments:
Gert writes:
Dear Parvez

Congratulations with your film - what an incredible effort. Although I haven't been able to see it jet, I've followed it's presentation here in Denmark. I wish to express my deepest respect and admiration and sincerely wish you all the best for the film and the future in general - take good care of your self...

From Gert (danish, gay and christian man ;o)

Ravi writes from London
Hello Parvez,

Ravi here, we met on Sunday after the screening of the film. Anyway, I hope all's well, and again, I thought that the film was excellent. Stay in touch :-)

Ravi xx

More to come as I wade through all the emails.

Safiah writes from London:
Hi, thank you for coming to London. I thought it was a great documentary for everyone and enjoyed the discussion. I brought a friend and he cried.
Is it still showing in Malaysia as u mention in London? And whats ur blog?
Safiah

Followers

This JIHAD IS ON FIRE

September 2007 is when I started (with a finished film, my first) and now some 49 countries and 8 million people later, the whole world is talking. The movement around this work has begun worldwide. We will be screening next year around the world and yes in Muslim countries as well.

For more updates email me at parvezsharmaATgmailDOTcom and post your comments here as well.


Imam Muhsin Hendricks and his website for the Inner Circle

Director/Producer Parvez Sharma

Director/Producer Parvez Sharma
All the Breaking News around 'A Jihad for Love' is at this blog address. You can email Parvez directly at parvezsharmaATgmailDOTcom

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