Gay Pilgrimage

Gay Muslim filmmaker documents his journey to Mecca, where homosexuality is punishable by death, in his latest documentary A Sinner in Mecca.

It might seem silly to film a movie as important and groundbreaking as A Sinner in Mecca on an iPhone 4S. But Parvez Sharma had no choice. Filming of a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca is prohibited, and the other sin of the documentary film maker who now lives in New York is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Sharma is gay, and has been considered an infidel in Saudi Arabia since the 2007 release of his movie A Jihad for Love, which chronicles the experiences of gay and lesbian Muslims around the world. Sharma made the trip, which ultimately could have cost him his life, to try to balance his devotion to the religion of Islam and his own sexuality.

The film also explores Sharma’s relationship with his mother, who died of cancer when he was 21.  She passed without accepting her son’s homosexuality, and clinging to the hope that he would find a wife. Sharma was left to wonder if his lifestyle led to her death.

There were several testing moments during Sharma’s pilgrimage to Mecca, known as a haj.  At one point he was caught filming by religious policeman. Another moment was a traditional ritual that caused Sharma great inner conflict was the qurbani in which he had to slit the throat of a goat. The film maker commented on this experience, “By killing another living being, I have also killed part of myself.”

Despite these trials, and despite feeling alone among the other hundreds of thousands also making the pilgrimage, Sharma felt that he had to continue making A Sinner in Mecca.  He was acting on behalf of all the homosexual Muslims who would never make the trip in fear of being caught and executed.

The film also examines other topics related to the practice of ancient Islam in the modern world, including the clash between the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims and the violent minority who steal headlines on the evening news, the commercialization and Westernization in Saudi Arabia near sacred holy sites, and Sharma’s relationship with his husband back in New York.

A Sinner in Mecca debuted at the HotDocs Festival this May in Toronto.

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