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Film of Muslim gays stirs up sentiments

By Sujeet Rajan, Indian Express, 10 March 2006. English Language.

In the Name of Allah, a feature-length yet-to-be-released documentary based on the struggles of Muslim homosexuals, is already raising the hackles of the Muslim community.

Directed by New York-based filmmaker Parvez Sharma, the film is produced by Sandi Dubowski, who won the Teddy Gay and Lesbian award in 2001 for his controversial documentary Trembling Before G-d.

The documentary, which was shot in several countries, including India, Pakistan, and the United States, looks at gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims across the world.

According to reports, In the Name of Allah, already two years in the making, is being financed with the support of ZDF [Germany’s national public television broadcaster]. The last shoots in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia were scheduled for last November. The film is scheduled for release later this year.

“The world right now needs to understand Islam, and these are the most unlikely storytellers of Islam,” Dubowsky was quoted as saying by Variety magazine last week.

Sharma and Dubowsky plan to submit the documentary to major festivals in the Muslim world as well as in the West. If rejected, Dubowski said, “We’ll find ways of screening it in every Muslim nation, even if it is underground.”

Dubowski faced problems with the international release of Trembling Before G-d, with protests and bans in South Africa and Mexico, among other places.

Threats to Sharma have now become routine. In an interview with The New York Times, Sharma said that, if ever identified, a much worse fate awaited the Muslim homosexuals profiled in his film. For some, imprisonment or torture is a possibility, he added.

“About every two weeks I get an e-mail that berates me, condemns me to hell and, if they are nice, asks me to seek forgiveness while there is still time,” Sharma told The Times.

Sharma, a homosexual himself, grew up in India. He studied English literature at Presidency College, University of Calcutta, and went on to a master’s degree in mass communication (film and television) from Jamia Millia Islamia University; journalism from the University of Wales, Cardiff; in broadcast and in Video from American University’s School of Communication.

Writing for The Telegraph in India, he authored “Emerging from the Shadows,” the country’s first major newspaper article to detail the life of Indian lesbians.

In The Times interview, Sharma said that the inspiration for In the Name of Allah came from his personal experiences as a gay Muslim. His curiosity about how Islam and homosexuality intersect grew when he attended American University.

Listening to stories told by gay Muslims at the school, Sharma conceived the idea of giving “voice to a community that really needed to be heard, and that until now hadn’t been. It was about going where the silence was strongest.”

“I received thousands of e-mails shortly after word got out about the film,” Sharma said.

As with Christianity and Judaism, there is a broad range of expert opinion on the exact nature of Islam’s official stance toward homosexuality. Some scholars interpret the Quran as suggesting that there is no condemnation of homosexuality, while others read Muslim scripture as indicating that homosexual acts should be punished with death.

Daily Muslims, a leading weekly for the South Asian Muslim community in the United States, ran a cover story by its executive editor on Sharma’s In the Name of Allah last week.

The article noted with sarcasm that “Muslims are now forced to learn homosexuality because it is part of ‘civility.’ Premier in Ontario, for example, encouraged Muslim parents in November 2004 to allow their children to attend public school classes on tolerance for homosexuality because this was part of learning civility.”

This article appeared in Edition 211 of Voices That Must Be Heard.

Included by permission of Indian Express. Voices © 2006, IPA, all rights reserved.

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