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The Haj gave me validation: Openly gay Muslim filmmaker records his journey in a documentary

Parvez Sharma’s documentary, A Sinner in Mecca, records his journey to holy city as gay man coming to terms with his religion.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: April 28, 2015 12:32 pm
talk, mumbai talk, documentary, A Sinner in mecca, Parvez Sharma, Islam Mecca, gay filmmaker, Jihad for Love,  Wahabi Islam, ISIS  Parvez Sharma(right); a still from the film.

New York-based filmmaker Parvez Sharma was haunted by the question, “Is it possible for someone like me to be a good Muslim?” Openly gay and married to a New York-based musician, Sharma was unsure if his religion would accept him because of his orientation. It was this quest for an answer that led him on a perilous journey.

“The only way to prove that I was a good Muslim and there was place for me in Islam would be to take a journey to Mecca,” says Sharma, who also decided to film his journey in a city, where men and women come from all over the world to wash their sins. Filmmaking is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, fines and death. Sharma’s first film, A Jihad for Love (2007), dealt with homosexual Muslims and had made him a target for clerics and extremists. “I was terrified for months before that journey. Everyone knew that I was an openly gay Muslim man and the risk to even enter that city was enormous,” says Sharma, who even wrote a will before he left for Haj.

Shot on his camera phone and two small cameras that “looked like phones” that he smuggled in, A Sinner in Mecca moves from doubt to despair and eventually becomes a direct challenge to the Saudi Arabia and its version of Wahabi Islam. “My film is not an attack on Islam. It’s an attack on Wahabi Islam, which is at the root of the ideology that ISIS has,” says Sharma, who found himself, very often, at the wrong end of the baton of the Muttawas (religious police) and was told to stop filming on many occasions. His footage was deleted more than once. “One had to hold the camera for at least 15 seconds to get a decent shot. If you would stand in the same spot for too long, the Muttawas would notice,” says Sharma.

The film, which will be screened at the Hot Docs festival in Canada, is a disquiet and restless narrative. One sees Sharma as he gets closer to the Kabba, the stampede, the lack of water, filth on the streets while going towards Arrafat (a place one visits during the Haj), and eventually the way history has been wiped out, in and around Mecca, with “ugly” concrete structures making their way to “Mecca Vegas”. In the film, one can spot a mall 700 feet away from the Kabba. “They have actually demolished the house where the Prophet lived and have built toilets in that space. We hear such adulterated accounts of this journey from other Hajis that we don’t get to know the whole truth. It is a capitalist landscape of destruction,” says Sharma.

With word spreading about A Sinner in Mecca, hate mail and threats to Sharma’s life are now piling on. “The Haj gave me validation. It eventually became a question of me accepting Islam on my own terms,” says Sharma.


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  1. I
    Apr 28, 2015 at 7:26 pm
    Religion is the personnel choice.No body is compelled in present world order to follow particular religion or doctrine.If we look intricately we can understand Parvez Sharma has come with bad intention only to film and attack certain sect within Islam.We go to holy places if we are religious for certain needs within us.Problems which are engulfing such places are not for politicking.Then to make publicity.Parvez Sharma is doing sin which is prohibited in Islam and want to justify it by slinging at it.He has done heinous crime from the point of view of ethics and hospitality. No body has told him to be Muslim.If he wants then he had to follow it rules.
    1. M
      Apr 29, 2015 at 1:45 am
      Islam is not private property of any one nor any one allowed to do according to his wills. He is not a Muslim nor allowed for Haj. Bahawi only doing what is written in Quran and Hadeeth and not recognized any action out side these. Prophet Mohammed house demolished because the space became less for the pilgrimage and toilet built over the house of one of enemy of Islam(Sorry for got the name) Islam has its own consution and If you strictly follow it then only you are Muslim else not. Sharma does openly not a Muslim because he does not follow Islamic Consution and tries to explain make Islam like other religion that "What ever you do you follow that religion" But in Islam you are out of Islam immediately.
      1. P
        periyar madakoo
        Sep 13, 2015 at 1:47 am
        wahabis, Madrasas all should be banned Hang the Saudi diplomat who raped two hindu Nepalese girls in Delhi, repeatedly in fact stone the diplomat to death
        1. K
          Apr 29, 2015 at 12:29 pm
          Sharma ? A very odd name for a muslim.