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Originally published Friday, September 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"A Jihad for Love": Documentary explores the dilemma of gay Muslims

"A Jihad for Love" is Parvez Sharma's intriguing but frustrating documentary about homosexuality in the Muslim world.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"A Jihad for Love," a documentary directed by Parvez Sharma. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes brief profanity, ritual animal killing). In English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish, Hindi and French, with English subtitles. Varsity.

"My life is Iran," says an Iranian refugee living in Turkey. "I miss everything."

He speaks for many gay Muslims in Parvez Sharma's thoughtful but frustrating documentary, "A Jihad for Love," which tries to establish a dialogue between Islamic scholars and less-orthodox Muslims who refuse to deny their attraction to the same sex.

The Quran has less to say than the Bible on the subject of homosexuality, but Islamic scholars tend to be adamant that it condemns gay people to harsh punishment. When other experts argue that the Quran refers only to male rape, and that it has nothing to say about lesbians, they're accused of playing semantic games.

Sharma takes his cameras to Egypt, India, Pakistan, South Africa and other countries, but the interviews he conducts reveal essentially the same patterns. Guilt, repression, self-hatred and exile are the only options, with suicide even mentioned at one point as a possibility.

The lucky ones escape to France or Canada, where they can hope to start a new life, but the phone calls home reveal that they're not happy about saying goodbye to their families or traditions.

Many of them are devout Muslims who have struggled with their feelings, and they're not prepared to abandon their homes or their religion. They're stuck between the religion they've been raised on and a more open form of Islam they're in the midst of creating.

So, for that matter, is Sharma's movie, which can't help leaning toward the notion that the term "gay Muslim" is becoming an oxymoron. Afraid that they'll be recognized, several of the interviewees have had their faces blurred or left out by the cameras (Sharma focuses on hands during one long conversation). The end result: They seem even more marginalized than before.

"A Jihad for Love" is an intriguing companion piece to last year's "For the Bible Tells Me So," which challenged conventional interpretations of the Bible on the subject of homosexuality, and 2001's "Trembling Before G-d," which dealt with Hasidic gays (the latter was directed by Sharma's co-producer, Sandi Dubowski).

But it's not as wide-ranging or as forceful as "For the Bible Tells Me So" and the interviews lack the depth of "Trembling Before G-d." For all the research, courage and passion that went into it, the movie is sometimes curiously one-note.

John Hartl:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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