Benefit held for gay Islam film
by Katie Dettman
Halal Films raised $17,000 Monday, October 16 for In the Name of Allah, the working title of a groundbreaking film that's been four years of work by director Parvez Sharma and producer Sandi DuBowski. Donors and supporters gathered at the SupperClub in downtown San Francisco to celebrate Sharma's film as he enters the final stages of production.
The film addresses the hidden lives and daily struggles of gay Muslims all over the world. Sharma filmed his subjects in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Turkey, France, India, South Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom. A 12-minute clip was shown to supporters Monday.
In many Islamic countries throughout the world, religious leaders still condone beating and executing gay people. There have been confirmed reports of gay people being executed in Iran and Saudi Arabia by hanging, stoning, and beheading, and gay people can be jailed in India.
According to www.SodomyLaws.org, being a gay male is punishable by death in Mauritania, Nigeria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In addition, being a gay male is illegal in 78 countries around the world. Being a lesbian is illegal in 50 countries around the world.
Sharma said Monday that he is trying to send a message to President Bush and Osama bin Laden, both of whom he said present the wrong image of Islam to the world.
"What I'm really trying to do is present the vast middle in what is the fastest growing religion in the world. Islam's most unlikely storytellers are stepping out and they're stepping proud to tell Mr. George Bush and Mr. Osama bin Laden that the Islam that both of them talk about is not the Islam that the prophet, peace be upon him, had revealed to him 1,400 years ago," said Sharma. "I think this film is very important because it gives an opportunity for the most unlikely voices from this religion to come out and to talk.
"The Islam that this film is seeking to reclaim is rich, it is pulsating, it's welcoming, condemning sometimes, it's loving, it's erotic, it's sensual, it's poetic and it's musical," said Sharma.
It is clear that both producer and director want to bring a message of tolerance and acceptance to gay and straight people of all religions.
DuBowski's 2001 film Trembling Before G-d , portrays gay and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews. "Trembling has gone on to have an impact that has gone way beyond what we ever dreamed or imagined," said DuBowski. "It has been seen now by an estimated 8 million people worldwide. The most important thing is that it has truly changed the lives of individuals, of families, of religious leaders around the globe, but we are all here tonight because we too want In the Name of Allah to be a profound catalyst for change."
Sharma and DuBowski's goal is to launch the film in 2007 in a world premiere and screen it at festivals around the globe. "We want to seek the widest distribution possible and also to create an international healthy dialogue project with the film over the next years. If there is anything that characterizes our work, it is [that] finishing the film is only the beginning," said DuBowski.
"We truly have a lot to do. We have to edit, pay salaries, move this film into completion, and launch it in the world. So this is where I invite you to become partners in this process. Your active involvement in this is critical," DuBowski added.
According to Halal Films' Web site, "The international chorus of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims brought together by In the Name of Allah doesn't seek to vilify or reject Islam, but rather negotiate a new relationship to it. In doing so, the film's extraordinary characters point the way for all Muslims to move beyond the hostile, war-torn present, toward a more hopeful future."
A gala benefit is planned for Los Angeles next month, in addition to fundraising house parties in Portland, Oregon and New York City.
To donate online, visit www.hartleyfoundation.org.