The homosexual director Parvez Sharma has made a documentary about his pilgrimage to Mecca. With this film he aims to show that is it is possible to be both a devout Muslim and gay. At the same time the film is a quiet rebellion against the strongly conservative, Saudi Arabian version of Islam.

‘A Sinner in Mecca’ will be screened tonight 21.15 at Cinemateket and tomorrow 19.00 at Taperiet.

Wearing only two pieces of white cloth, the gay Muslim director walks around the Holy Ka’aba among hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims. To the sound of Arabic prayers that create an intense rhythm, he moves closer and closer to Islam’s religious centre. He seeks forgiveness for his sins and reconciles himself with his beloved religion, which he again and again experiences as hostile towards people like him. Although he suffers contempt for his sexuality among Muslims, and that even his own mother would not accept him, Parvez stubbornly continues the fight against fundamentalism and the generalisation of Islam.

Muslim in the Middle East

Parvez Sharma is both director and protagonist of the film ‘A Sinner in Mecca’. The film is about the Indian director, who lives in New York with his husband, whom he married back in 2011. Immediately after the wedding, Parvez embarked on the Hajj pilgrimage – a journey that every devout Muslim is required to take at least once during their lives.

“I had wanted to go on the Hajj for a long time after my previous film (A Jihad for Love) I felt like this was the right time to go on the Hajj. I went in 2011, just a few months after Osama Bin Laden was killed and The Arabic Spring was happening. I thought that it would be an interesting time to be in South Arabia to see, if there was any sign of revolution there,” says Parvez.

In addition to taking on Hajj during the uprising, the aim was to create awareness and debate about Islam and the way religion is interpreted in Saudi Arabia. Parvez sees a clear difference between being a Muslim and being a Muslim in the way that religion is practiced in Saudi Arabia. Here the land is controlled by the Saudi Arabian Islam that Parvez mentions, and here is homosexuality, among other things, considered a crime that is punished by death penalty. “The most dangerous thing in the muslim world today is the Saudi Arabian version of Islam. An Saudi Arabia is exporting this Islam all around the muslim world and making societies more conservative. The ideology of ISIS and Al Quada comes directly from Saudi Arabias version of Islam,” says the Muslim director.

He believes that Muslims must challenge the violent and extremist turn religion has taken. It is also one of the reasons that the activist director has made ‘A Sinner in Mecca’. In the film, we witness how Parvez occasionally talks about a minority of Muslims “hijacking” Islam and acting violently in its name.

Life crisis

Apart from the activist reasons behind filming his Hajj, he says that it is also a great journey that he hopes will lead him to be accepted by Islam. Shortly before the pilgrimage, the director lost his mother. His mother had never accepted his homosexuality, and he says in the film: “I am now faced with a crisis of faith. I need to prove that I can be a good Muslim and be gay.”

The film follows Parvez’ struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his Muslim faith and his attempts to allay the guilt he feels about the disappointment his mother felt just before she died. “Did the shame of my sexuality kill her?” he asks in the film. In this way, the pilgrimage is an attempt to gain acceptance – not only from Islam but also from his mother.