Homosexuality in Muslim World Shrouded in Secrecy In an address to an audience at Columbia University last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that homosexuality does not exist in Iran. Parvez Sharma, the filmmaker behind the documentary A Jihad for Love, discusses the underground world of homosexuality in Muslim countries.
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Homosexuality in Muslim World Shrouded in Secrecy

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

Speaking in New York last week, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said homosexuality does not exist in his country. The comment prompted derisive laughter from his audience, but it raised a troubling issue that is rarely talked about openly in the Muslim world. Unwittingly, perhaps, the Iranian president put a spotlight on the hostile treatment of homosexuals in Muslim countries.

Today, a conversation with Parvez Sharma, a Muslim gay filmmaker and director of the documentary "A Jihad for Love."

Filmed in 12 countries and nine languages, the documentary attempts to lift the veil of secrecy from the issue of homosexuality in the Muslim world. It features profiles of men and women who struggle daily against persecution, danger and social isolation.

(Soundbite of movie "A Jihad for Love")

Mr. PARVEZ SHARMA (Filmmaker/Director, "A Jihad For Love"): You said over the national radio, well, I am Muslim, I am an Imam, and I'm gay. Did it ever occur to you that, listen, I'm going to be hurting the feelings of thousands of Muslims?

Unidentified Woman: Yes, I fully understand that. But what you also need to understand is that the issue of homosexuality within the Muslim community is real.

BROOKS: We'll talk more about the film in a moment.

And we want to hear from you. What do you know about this issue in the Muslim world? Give us a call, particularly if you come from that culture and can share first-hand experiences. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can also comment on our blog. It's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later in the hour, the saga of the $20 billion V-22 Osprey. Not withstanding big concerns about safety and combat effectiveness, a Marine aircraft is on its way to Iraq.

But first, homosexuality in the Muslim world. Parvez Sharma joins us from our bureau in New York. Welcome.

Mr. SHARMA: Thanks, Anthony. It's really a pleasure to try to engage with your listeners this afternoon about Islam.

BROOKS: Well, yeah, it's an important issue. And I spent part of the morning looking at the film, "A Jihad for Love." Tell us what led you to make this.

Mr. SHARMA: Everything in my life seemed to lead up to this point. I'm a gay and Muslim man myself. I was born and raised in India. And post-September 11th, my identity as a Muslim was the thing that came most into question as I was living in the U.S. at the time and have continued to live in the U.S. since. And I felt that they have many problematic discourses that were gaining speed in the American consciousness that were discourses related to Islam. And it was just the perfect time to make a documentary about Islam and homosexuality. And what I always say is that the subjects in this film are the most unlikely storytellers of Islam.

BROOKS: Hmm. Now, who's your audience? I mean, who were you imagining this film was going to be seen by? Who do you want to see it, first and foremost?

Mr. SHARMA: Well, right now, I'm talking to your listeners. But I definitely want the film to be seen by everyone, if you will. When I was making the film, I made the film with a Muslim camera. I filmed in my own communities. I was definitely not mediated by the West and I was allowed to enter spaces that would have not necessarily been open to other Muslims. So I definitely want Muslims to engage with this film and to begin the discussions within their communities that have been overdue for so long.

But I think the film is also a remarkable opportunity to engage Western audiences in a kind of discussion about Islam that has not been happening in the mainstream media in this country and elsewhere.

BROOKS: Say more about that. What's the discussion here about Islam that you want to engage American listeners with?

Mr. SHARMA: I've been posting for the last few fays on The Huffington Post. And there's a big article out in the Wall Street Journal today where I have tried to lay out some of the parameters of what the discussion should be. First of all, I think it is really important that the rules of engagement around Islam and how we discuss Islam need to change. We can no longer continually talk about the most violent minority within Islam and allow them to dictate the tenets of a religion that is fourteen hundred and twenty-seven years old.

We cannot allow the hastefully packaged newspaper headlines and the 24-hour news cycle on the major networks in this country to just talk about the stories of extremists within our community. We need to engage somehow with people like myself - but believe me, I'm not the only one - with other Muslims who can articulate for Americans, for people living in the West, the core of this faith. And that is the faith - that is the core of the faith that is contested right now within our own communities, if you will.

Every Muslim today is facing that choice. Who are we going to allow to speak for us as Muslims? Who are we going to allow to discourse around Islam? And how are we going to take back the discussions around our religion, around one billion of us - and now growing as the fastest growing religion in the world -and inform audiences and engage them about the humanity, which is inherent in the faith, and the core principals of this faith that have been so unfortunately hijacked?

BROOKS: We're talking to Parvez Sharma. He's director of the documentary film, "A Jihad for Love," which talks about the intersection between Islam and homosexuality.

And we're inviting your calls at 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK.

Parvez Sharma, tell me how you made this film. You had to work, I gather, mostly undercover, conceal the identities of most of the people you interviewed, as I saw this morning. This must have been quite a challenge to take on in these various Muslim countries that you worked in.

Mr. SHARMA: Anthony, it was really interesting, and it's been an amazing and really profound transformative journey, if you will, that I've had through my own Islam in the making of this film. I have learned, for one, something - or let me say I have been able to confirm what I always knew, which is that Islam is not the problematic monolith that we would think it to be here in the West.

And interestingly, the same Islam, the way I look, and the way I talk that makes me so visible at boarder checkpoints in the U.S., for example, or just walking on the street here in New York, gave me a degree of invisibility in Muslim countries because I look like everybody else. At the same time, I knew that government permission could not be sought to make this film when I was traveling in Egypt, for example. And because I knew it would never be granted. We live in an age of digital technology. Cameras have gotten smaller and smaller. And with my Sony PD150 camera, which is a tiny little device, I was able to pass most boarder checkpoints and filmed at a considerable degree of anonymity - pretending to be a tourist at all times. The good thing was that I was able to get into the lives of these subjects because they trusted me as a fellow gay Muslim.

And it was constantly a challenge because I - whenever I would leave a country with the tapes that I had filmed, I would make sure to record on the first 15 minutes and on the last 15 minutes of the tape footage that would be seen as touristy. And I would embed the critical parts of the interviews that I would get from subjects in the film in the middle of the tape, so that if people at checkpoints, at border posts would care to look at the tape and play it back, then they would just see tourist footage of the pyramids in Cairo, for example.

I would also leave copies of the tapes behind the trusted friends in different parts of where I was filming. And then, in case my tapes were taken away, then I would know that there were copies that existed. And then later, they would be destroyed.

BROOKS: Well, I want to talk a little bit about some of these, frankly, brave people who came to talk to you or agreed to talk to you. Let's talk about one of the characters whose identity is not concealed. This is the Imam Muhsin Hendricks who is in Cape Town, South Africa. He's a Muslim Imam who actually comes out and declares to everyone that he's homosexual. Tell us his story.

Mr. SHARMA: Muhsin is a remarkable man, and I have known him for a few years now. I consider him almost my spiritual teacher, if you will. He is very learned in the Koran. He studied Islamic theology in Pakistan well before we knew Pakistan to be what it is today. And he was married. He's had three children. He was divorced when he came out. He was excommunicated from his own community of scholars in Cape Town.

South Africa, Cape Town and Johannesburg, especially have very strong Muslim communities, many of them are extremely conservative and come from the Tablighi Jamaat of Islam, which roughly sort of translates into the kind of people you associate with Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia.

And he had to face a tremendous amount of opposition from within his own community, because here was a religious scholar, a scholar who had been given the stamp of approval from orthodox Islam, coming out and saying that he was a gay man. And he was ready to speak on behalf of all of these people who had been unheard from for so long. And just documenting his life's journey and the difficult choices he's had to make in his life, and the bridges he is constantly trying to build within his own Muslim community has been a remarkable experience and…

BROOKS: And even within his own family, there was a remarkable scene in there where he's driving in the car with his two children. I gather he's estranged from his wife, but he's with his two children. And he's talking to them about the possibility that in some Muslim cultures he could be stoned to death. And he's trying to explain to his young children who think it's a bit of a game, but then they slowly sort of understand what he's trying to tell them. It's quite a scene.

Mr. SHARMA: I consider that, Anthony, to be a very remarkable moment because his daughter says to him, I know you will be stoned to death, but I just hope that they kill you with the first stone. And that is so profound because here are these kids who dearly love their father. They adore him, but they have been made to go through an orthodox Islamic education. And for them, in their worldview, at that young age, stoning to death for the crime of homosexuality is something that is normal.

And so they just hope that their father does not feel any pain during that process, but they do take that for granted, and it's just a very remarkable moment. Of course, I filmed with these kids three years ago. They have grown up into being very intelligent, young teenagers. And actually, we're going to premier the film at a festival in Cape Town in a few weeks. And they will be coming out and speaking openly at the screening.

BROOKS: We're talking with Parvez Sharma whose director of the film, "A Jihad for Love," about homosexuality in the Muslim world.

More from Parvez Sharma. Your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail. The address is talk@npr.org.

We'll be back after a short break. I'm Anthony Brooks. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

BROOKS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington.

Today, we're talking about homosexuality in the Muslim world. Our guest is Parvez Sharma, a Muslim filmmaker and director of the documentary, "A Jihad for Love."

And you're welcome to join us on the phones. What do you know about the issue and of this issue in the Muslim world? We'd particularly like to hear from those of you who come from that culture and can share firsthand experiences. Give us a call, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And Parvez Sharma, I wanted to just play a very brief clip from the film, "A Jihad for Love." And we were talking about the character, Muhsin Hendricks, a gay Imam in Cape Town, South Africa, and this is a conversation that he's having with an Islamic scholar about - for some homosexual Muslims, there is a legitimate fear of death. Let's just listen.

(Soundbite of movie "A Jihad for Love")

Mr. A.K. HUSSAIN (Islamic Scholar): (As Himself) Homosexuality is a crime not only in Islam, in every divine religion, and is punishable in Islam by death, and we say is the law of the Islamic state, then you would be - face the capital punishment. The only difference among the jurists is how the person should be killed. That's the only difference.

BROOKS: So, my question, is that a real fear across the Muslim world for people who are gay or lesbian, and not coming out of the - and not able to come out the closet, essentially?

Mr. SHARMA: Definitely it's a real fear. But I would like - I would hasten to add that we need to look at the film in all of its complexity and understand that the voice, the opinion of mufti A.K. Hussain who you just heard talking, who is a Tablighi, as I had mentioned earlier, Tablighi Imam is certainly not the only voice that speaks for Islam.

Definitely, there are laws within Sharia that say that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Sharia is not enforced throughout the Muslim world. In fact, it is not the norm, it's more the exception. Many of the laws that Muslim states like Pakistan, Egypt, and many others in the Middle East inherit are laws that came through colonization, through the colonial powers where the laws condemning homosexuality as an unnatural offense were written down by the British or the French.

So we need to understand while Sharia does condemn homosexuality explicitly, there are also the legacies of colonialism that many countries inherit. Is the fear a genuine fear? Definitely. Especially if you're living in a theocratic faith like Iran, is there a genuine fear? Definitely. And I have tried hard to document that in the film.

BROOKS: Hmm. Well, I want to invite into the conversation John Bradley, he wrote the book, "Saudi Arabia Exposed." He's also author of the forthcoming book, "Inside Egypt." And he joins us by phone from Singapore. John Bradley, welcome to you.

Mr. JOHN BRADLEY (Author, "Saudi Arabia Exposed"): Hi, nice to be here. Thank you.

BROOKS: Good to have you. I was reading a piece that you wrote a couple of years ago in The New Republic about Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where you describe a fairly vibrant gay subculture that was pretty much out in the open. And I'm wondering if you can tell us something about what you observed or anything as it relates to what you've been listening to so far.

Mr. BRADLEY: You know, the irony of homosexuality in the Arab world and why do Islamic - is that as long as it's not defined and categorized in Western terms, in gay rights terms, there's actually a great deal of freedom to be enjoyed by people we would call homosexuals or gay people, but who, themselves, would not define themselves as such. You see, we have to understand that this kind of sexual identification of being a gay man or being a homosexual is very much a Western concept.

And gay rights promoters in the West who go to the Muslim world looking for Westernized people there who have adopted this identity, who can - there's a risk of actually portraying - giving a very false portrayal of what actually goes on there.

You see, most gay - what we would call gay Arabs don't identify themselves as gay because they see what they do as an act and not as something that has personal or social repercussions in the way it does in the West. They don't feel the need to come out, for example. And as long as you accept those terms, there's an extraordinary amount of freedom.

For example, in Jeddah, when I asked a local Saudi man which - who liked boys -which are in the cruising areas in the city, he said, well, it will be easier for me to make a list of the cruising - the areas that are not cruising areas, because, basically, everywhere is a cruising area and it's extraordinarily gay-friendly, so long as that individual, who is trying to pick up someone in the mall or who's going out with his friends or restaurant or whatever, doesn't actually define himself a gay and then take that onto a social level and try to promote some kind of political or personal or rights agenda.

BROOKS: I see. Let me get Parvez Sharma to come back. Parvez, I hear you eager to sort of jump back in on this. Is that an important distinction that John Bradley is making to your mind? That is, not identifying as a sort of part of a broader gay or lesbian culture.

Mr. SHARMA: Anthony, this is exactly what I wrote a large piece about on the Huffington Post just yesterday. And the language of affirmation that we are so used to adopting in the West - words like gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -do not translate into Farsi, into Bengali, into Arabic, into any of the languages that I've made this film in. And definitely not into the context they come from. It is easy to assume to have the condescension and the arrogance in the West to think that our models of liberation can be easily translated into other societies. It's not true at all.

One of the things - one of the cases that I'm trying to also make very strongly as a gay Muslim man who is not from the West, who comes from the very world that John was just describing is that homosexuality within Islam has not only been tolerated for fourteen hundred and twenty-seven years but, sometimes, even celebrated in the arts and poetry through Sufi mysticism, and is a rights of passage, if you will, in the sexual development of young men, definitely, and also young women.

And as long as you are not marching down Maine Street, holding a banner saying that you are gay or lesbian and you demand equal political rights or are demanding the right to marry, you are okay. I have been to some of the most interesting gay parties in Cairo, in Tehran where people engage with each other, with each other's sexuality, and it's always interesting to know that marriage, heterosexual marriage, is pretty much the norm for everyone. There are people who will be married, who've been in marriages with women. But at the same time, they'll be leading this double life, if you will.

There are cafes where people come and meet. There's the famous Daneshju Park in Tehran that I just wrote about where a young friend of mine actually was able to meet a member of the Revolutionary Elite Guard, the Basij, who were similarly inclined as him. And they were able to meet each other in that cruising area. So, it's definitely complex. And that's - you know, so much of the debate that has been raging after President Ahmadinejad's comments has been so futile. And because…

BROOKS: Parvez Sharma, can I just - I want to get you to hold on only because we've got so many callers who want to get in on this great conversation. So, let me invite them into the conversation. They can call 800-989-8255.

And let's go to Riyab(ph) who's calling from Ohio. Hi, Riyab. You're on the air.

RIYAB (Caller): Yes. Hi.

BROOKS: Thank you very much for calling. What's up?

RIYAB: You're welcome. I would like - actually, I was driving, and I don't have a cell phone. So I decided to stop at the community center specially to participate with what you were talking about. Hello?

BROOKS: Yes, we're glad to have you.

RIYAB: Yes. What I'd like to comment is that it's what your guest is saying is absolutely true. I visited Jeddah, and I spent some time there. And I was actually invited for - with some lesbian community to participate in lesbianity. And at the same time, I lived in Cairo, also later on, and I know for sure that in Khartoum, one of the main singers for the last century, she was also lesbian. So, although she pretended that she's married to a doctor.

But Egyptians and all the Arab world, they do not like to make this known for outside of the Arab world. However, I have also, from friends who were gay, and they were criticized, and the family was trying to hide that fact about their gay position. But at the same time, some of them were forced to be married to women in order to hide the fact. And then the struggle is always - is not the men usually, it's the women who accepted to marry these men not knowing that they were gay.

BROOKS: I see.

RIYAB: So there is always some kind of - the society would like to hide the fact that lesbianity and gayism, if you will, exist in the Middle East, although it exists in enormous numbers of people.

BROOKS: Great. Well, Riyab, thank you so much for your call. I appreciate it.

RIYAB: No, thank you. Thank you.

BROOKS: Good comments. John Bradley, let me come to you, because I'm just curious. In this distinction between acceptance and some tolerance of gays in the Arab world, as long as it isn't sort of stated overtly as being part of some sort of Western-style movement, is there an official position? For example, in Saudi Arabia on homosexuality, is it a crime? Is it punished? Do people - are people punished if they are sort of blatant about it?

Mr. BRADLEY: No. That's - basically, the policy is don't frighten the horses. There have seen some men who have been executed in Saudi Arabia over the past five years, and Western reporters reported that they were executed by homosexuality, which is completely wrong. I was in Saudi Arabia at that time, and I got to the bottom of these cases, and they were executed for raping young boys. And just to clarify, Sharia law does not say that homosexuality as such is punishable by death, which say that anal intercourse between two males is punishable by death. And so even there, there is some shades of gray. Now…

Mr. SHARMA: And if I…

Mr. BRADLEY: …the question that I really want to ask is, since there is so much freedom for men in the Arab world to have sex with other men or boys, if they don't actually come out of the closet and make a great deal of such of that. Since there's so much social space in a country like Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are segregated, and men walking down the street holding hands with a man or even kissing man on the cheeks is not frowned upon, it's considered perfectly normal, and it's a perfect kind of purpose for gays.

Since - if you go to a city like Luxor in Egypt, which is the male prostitution capital of the Arab world, where you can - other Westerners seat in a cafe without being constantly propositioned by even pre-pubescent or it's right up to middle-aged men who are constantly trying to get you to take you to your hotel, your apartment or whatever. Since there is all this freedom, what good does it do for people with Western-style concept of gay liberation and so on to actually go to that region and try and impose it on these people who actually are very resistant to it?

So what happens is, there's this paradox that the more you talk about it, the more you raise the issue, and the more you push the political agenda, the more you risk creating a backlash. And that's exactly what happened in Cairo, when they arrested - a few years ago - a number of self-identified Westernized gay Egyptian men, who are on a cruise boat on the Nile at the district.

Now, these people had got unto the Internet. They've - they were starting to talk about gay rights. They identified themselves in a gay - in a Western-style gay way. Now, what was the reaction? There was a massive tramp down by the regime who will use any excuse to victimize a section of the population, to show off their own support among the Islamists. So the question is, isn't it best just to leave alone?

BROOKS: Hmm. We're talking to John Bradley and we're talking to Parvez Sharma who is a filmmaker and director of "A Jihad For Love," about homosexuality in the Muslim world.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's take a call. Let's go to Nadin(ph) who is calling from Louisville, Kentucky. Hi, Nadin.

NADIN (Caller): Hello. Yeah. I'm a Muslim American calling from Louisville. And I wanted to comment about Ahmadinejad's comments. How they're grossly misinterpreted by like the Western media. What his exact quote was from Friday's U.N. address or Columbia speech was: Homosexuals do not exist like they do in your country. And I don't really know why this program even claim that he said that homosexuals do not exist in Iran when he didn't say that. I think you he just meant it as a phenomenon in Iran, it doesn't exist like it does in America.

BROOKS: Okay. Well, Nadin, you put that on the table. It's an interesting point. Is that an important distinction, Parvez Sharma?

Mr. SHARMA: It's a remarkably important distinction, and I have been trying very hard to talk about that constantly. I would almost tend to agree with President Ahmadinejad when he says: We do not have homosexuals like you have in the West. This is exactly what we've been talking about.

Of course, it is - what's happening right now is that President Ahmadinejad, in this current climate, is very easy to demonize. So anything that comes out of his mouth, it immediately makes it to all the headlines. And in this climate of denial that this man has also denied the holocaust, it's just a perfect fit for the media to pick on that.

But the idea of homosexuality as a Western concept is not an idea that I was brought up with at all growing up like I did in - within Islam, as I did. And as John was saying earlier, I mean, these are complex issues. The idea of whether you continue to stay invisible or do you actually claim some kind of identity and organize around it is an idea that is being sort of debated heavily in the streets of Beirut, in Cairo, all the places I spent the last few years of my life in filming in these communities. Already, though, there is an effort to organize.

Within Cairo, there are gay groups, if you will, that are forming. There's a group that is flourishing in Beirut. There are gay discos there, which you can go to, and there are significant numbers of people who have access to the English language or to computers or the Internet who are beginning to claim the identity. The boys in Luxor that were just mentioned, a town where I have spent a lot of time, are unfortunately victim of another kind of situation which is gay sexual tourism, which is problematic and which has continued for a long time in many parts of the Middle East including Egypt and Morocco.

So we need to clearly define the differences between the idea of sexuality as we look at it in the Muslim world. And all I can see, as a Muslim, is that sexuality is as fluid as anywhere else. And, you know, I'm - this is a hard and complex concept to explain, but Islam had a sexual revolution at its very birth.

Here was a religion that was openly talking about the sexual act as an act of pleasure, which Christianity had not done before. As Muslims, we are taught through the hadith of the Prophet and through his Sunna, which is the way he lived his life, we are guided on every aspect of our lives including our sexualities and how to behave before and after intercourse, for example.

So there was an honest discussion within Islam at that time about sexual behaviors, which is a discussion that has been woefully absent in the last few decades as this whole hysteria around, you know - and misinformation around people being beheaded in Saudi Arabia or hanged in Iran for being homosexual has spread.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. We're talking to Parvez Sharma. He's director of the documentary, "A Jihad For Love." We're also talking to John Bradley, author of the book, "Saudi Arabia Exposed," and author of the forthcoming book, "Inside Egypt."

We're going to take a short break. And, John Bradley, we're going to say goodbye to you and thank you very much for coming on the program.

Mr. BRADLEY: Thanks for listening.

BROOKS: Yeah. I really appreciate it. And Parvez Sharma, please hang around. We've got more callers to take and more stuff to ask you. So hang around. We're going to take a short break.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

BROOKS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington.

Right now, we're talking to Parvez Sharma. He's a filmmaker and director of the documentary, "A Jihad For Love." And we're inviting your calls at 800-989-8255. That's 900-989-TALK.

We're talking about the intersection of homosexuality in the Muslim world.

And let's go right to a call - Parvez Sharma, you're still with us, correct? But I want to take a call.

Mr. SHARMA: Sure.

BROOKS: So let's go to - yes, let's go to Hassan(ph), who is calling from Kansas. Hi, Hassan.

HASSAN (Caller): Yes. Hi, sir.

BROOKS: You're on the air. What's on your mind?

HASSAN: Thank you very much. Yeah. My name is Hassan and I was - I used to be a Muslim, once upon a time in the past. Now, today, I'm not anymore. I became evolutionist instead of being creationist. The reason I'm calling, I just want to prove the point to your guest, with all my respect, Mr. Guest. The reason I stayed away from my (unintelligible) because of the hypocrisy in the religion.

When I was - in the '80s, I went for the first time to France, and I discovered homosexuality and I discovered the freedom, the way they were - French people living there. I really enjoyed it. I couldn't believe it. Because before that I used to think I was sick, that there was something wrong with me. But in Europe, I discovered that no, nothing wrong with me, because it was just the nature. So when I came back to Lebanon and I started being ultimately fully gay.

BROOKS: And what happened?

HASSAN: It came a time I was arrested, for some stupid reason I was arrested. The reason that they gave me, they arrest me, the reason why because I was gay. So they arrested me because I was gay, but I was tortured for - not tortured, but to me since the beginning it was torture - I was raped consecutively, raped by a man. They arrest me because I was gay, but they raped me. Men. Look at this hypocrisy. In the end, they let me go because I was bleeding. I was bleeding. They didn't know what to do me. They just released me - let me go.


HASSAN: After too many years, I came to the States and I don't want to hear anymore about the Muslim or this religion. It's so hypocrite I don't know what to say. I'm not attacking the religion at all, but I'm simply saying the people the way they live their life by calling - as your guest, in the beginning, he pretended to be a victim in New York while he was - while he walked in the street, people look at - stare at him with bizarre way.

I have something to tell to your guest. Mr. Guest, you are enjoying the Judea-Christian freedom. You are enjoying the Judea-Christian democracy.

BROOKS: Okay, Hassan, I think…

HASSAN: If you are talking about the freedom in the Muslim world and the homosexuality, it's thanks to Christians and the Jews.

BROOKS: Okay. Hassan, I think we hear your point and it sounds like, Parvez Sharma, that what you heard from Hassan is someone who is completely sort of lost faith with the Muslim religion because of this issue. Is that something that you want to speak to?

Mr. SHARMA: I feel for Hassan's experience and I know exactly what he's been through. Anthony, maybe you've got to the part in the film where I document what happened to Massan(ph) in Egypt.

BROOKS: In fact I wanted to get you to talk about Massan because I didn't get to that. Yeah.

Mr. SHARMA: Massan was in Egypt in 2001. He was one of the 52 men arrested on that boat. He spent a year of his life in prison. He was in his early 20s. He was tortured, abused and continually raped. He did come to the West and he has found in the West an uncertain freedom.

BROOKS: He's living in Paris, correct?

Mr. SHARMA: He lives in Paris right now. I do not think that the world is all black and white. I certainly don't think that in the middle of Kansas, or let's say in the Deep South in this country, that homosexuality is something that you can flaunt easily. I think it - it's a problem in any divine religion. There has been a tradition of condemning homosexuality in Christianity and Judaism as well. In fact, all three religions refer to the same text, which is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of the nation of Lot. When they seek to condemn homosexuality. And certainly, in this country, the right wing has whipped up this huge hysteria around the idea of gay marriage, and as a climate of homophobia here right now.

So to say that, you know, that the West protects a person and is just - it's the only solution to find an idea of freedom or liberation is extremely problematic. I mean, Massan, when he did make it to Paris, lived on the streets for several years and has found it very, very hard to try to assimilate or live in a culture in France right now that is not very tolerant of its Arab immigrants.

BROOKS: But, you know, I'm intrigued by the example of Massan, and this is in stark counterpoint to the caller that we just heard from, and I think it's true with a lot of people in your film. In spite of what they go through, they retain their allegiance and their belief in Islam. And I'm intrigued by that. I mean, after the mistreatment that they suffered in the case of Massan, as you said, he was abused, tortured, got out, got to the West. He's still a devout Muslim.

Mr. SHARMA: Anthony, during the course of six years, I traveled the world with my camera for this film. And I met remarkable people like Hassan as well - your previous caller, people who had lost all faith in Islam and did not want to have anything to do with the religion because they felt the condemnation of what was at the core of their being, which was their sexuality, was too strong.

What is very compelling from me as a filmmaker, as a Muslim, was to choose to focus this film on the subjects who have chosen to remain within the faith. I think that struggle that they have had to wage and the remarkable idea of the faith that seems to condemn them actually sustaining them through very difficult times is very intriguing to me.


Mr. SHARMA: And Massan, when he talks on the phone, he says that he holds up this Koran that he kept with him throughout that horrible year in prison.

BROOKS: Yeah. Parvez Sharma, we literally have 10 seconds left, but I want to ask this question before you go and that is, have you experienced any backlash because of the release of this film?

Mr. SHARMA: The film has just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and it's just beginning its journey. I believe the end of making the film is the beginning of a movement. And as far as speaking to you today, the response has been positive, amazing, and people have been crying in the audiences and engaging very well with it.

BROOKS: Well, Parvez Sharma, thank you so much for coming in today.

Mr. SHARMA: Thank you.

BROOKS: That's Parvez Sharma, he's the director of the documentary, "A Jihad For Love," which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September. He joined us from our studios in New York. Again, Parvez Sharma, thank you.

Coming up, the 25-year saga of the plane that wouldn't die. Why the V-22 is now heading to Iraq with serious concerns about its safety and effectiveness. Plus, it's Tuesday. We'll read from your letters.

I'm Anthony Brooks. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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