Muslim filmmaker reflects on the Middle East at Penn State Abington

Last week, critically acclaimed filmmaker Parvez Sharma challenged Penn State Abington students to reinterpret their relationships with religion, politics and sexual orientation in the 21st century. The appearance by Sharma, whose debut documentary "A Jihad for Love" sparked an international furor, launched the college’s fall lecture series.

“The most bitter battles of this century will be on the front lines of religion, and you will be asked to participate,” Sharma said. The New York-based writer and director also elaborated on how everyone, especially those living in a democratic society, must define a balance between their spiritual beliefs and issues such as gay marriage, gender equality and women’s rights.

"A Jihad for Love" chronicles the emotional journey of Muslim homosexuals in 12 Middle Eastern countries including Iran, Egypt and Pakistan. The 2007 film, which took 6 years to create under the ongoing threat of government prosecution, focuses on his subjects’ efforts to reconcile their Islamic faith with their lifestyle.

Sharma, who is gay, chose the title of the film for its apparent contradiction - and thus its appeal - to Western audiences. He said that for Muslims the term jihad means a deep, personal struggle. In wrenching detail, he set out to explore this struggle for love and acceptance in traditional society.

Sharma encouraged Abington students to seek out the commonalities among religions. He identified himself as “culturally Muslim” said that he was exposed to many religions growing up in India and never felt excluded or oppressed by Islam for his sexual orientation.

Wrapping up the wide-ranging discussion that was interspersed with clips from his film, Sharma offered practical advice to Abington students in a tough job market. “Learn Arabic, Urdu or one of the Muslim languages because there is a huge need for people fluent in those languages,” he said.

Sharma announced that his book, "My Jihad," is scheduled for release in 2012, although he said “I am begging my editor for more time.”

For pictures of Sharma’s visit, go to online.

The Penn State Abington Lecture Series is sponsored by the Academic Environment Committee, LEAP (Lares Entertainment and Programming) and the Division of Student Affairs and funded by the student activities fee.

For more information on upcoming lectures go to online.

Caption: Filmmaker Parvez Sharma launched the Penn State Abington fall lecture series.
Credit: Pamela Brobst

Written by:
Regina Broscius
[email protected]