Parvez Sharma, a gay Muslim, filmed his Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, taking viewers where they’ve never been before.
Imagine that you’ve been brought up in a certain faith for your entire life. Your whole family are devout, and since early childhood, it has laid the foundations for the person you’ve become as an adult. It is a major part of your identity, and it has taught you many lessons that shape your daily life. Imagine that, at some point in your life, it is a goal to be able to visit the holiest place in your faith. Now, imagine that by making the visit to this place, you’ve got to hide who you are, because being who you are is punishable by death. Now imagine wanting to make a documentary about that journey.
That is exactly what filmmaker Parvez Sharma chose to do. Sharma, a filmmaker previously known for 2007’s controversial documentary about the lives of gay and lesbian Muslim people, A Jihad For Love, is an openly gay Muslim documentarian who fully adapts the old creative adage “Write what you know” into the world of cinema and changes it to “Film what you know.”
Sharma’s newest film A Sinner in Mecca is his most personal and challenging film to date. It follows him on his journey to Mecca, embarking on the Hajj Pilgrimage, a trip of worship and reflection that must be done by all able-bodied and financially capable Muslims at least once in their lifetime. Sharma decided to take his camera and follow his own personal journey to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death, and to Mecca, where it is illegal to film.
Sharma was very unsure what the result of his journey would be. “I was terrified, absolutely terrified. I even wrote my will before I left because I did not know if I would come back alive,” Sharma says in the film.
What A Sinner in Mecca does best is spark conversation. In a world where LGBT rights are becoming normalized in a time when being open and honest about one’s sexuality is still controversial, Sharma’s film forces a discussion of how one of the world’s largest religions views a whole subset of its total population, and how that subset sees their place in a faith of over 1 billion people across the planet.
A Sinner in Mecca had its premiere at Cinema Village in New York City, where Sharma is based and lives with his husband. Footage from their City Hall wedding serves as the opening scene, reported The Huffington Post.
While much of the response to the film has been positive, Sharma also stated that he has received hate mail and death threats as a result of the film being shown at festivals and select theaters across the country.
There is currently a campaign on Indiegogo with the hope of raising $35,000 to allow for A Sinner in Mecca to be distributed to a wider audience, and Sharma hopes, to the larger Muslim community as well. As of this writing, the campaign has raised just over $6,000.