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A Sinner In Mecca; A Hero To The Rest

Parvez Sharma releases his written memoir to his 2015 documentary, which explores his sexuality and seems to contrast his faith…
By Daniel Mitri
Parvez Sharma is, to some people, a very controversial figure; to others, he’s a hero. Despite the many titles the author and film-maker has been given over his influential career, almost everyone can agree that he is a very brave man.
Sharma’s memoir, A Sinner in Mecca, was released on August 15 of this year, and chronicles his journey to Saudi Arabia to embark on hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca)—a trip that put his life at risk. His written work is based on his 2015 documentary of the same name, which visually depicts Sharma’s religious pilgrimage.
The danger in this? Sharma is openly gay.
Homosexuality is regarded as a sin in extremely religious Saudi Arabia, where the mere act of embracing one’s sexual identity—if that identity is not heterosexual—is punishable by death. Sharma argues that he obeys his highest religious calling as an openly gay man, despite the immense danger he faces if his identity is revealed.
It is through making A Sinner in Mecca that he determines his ability to be a devout Muslim, despite his faith’s views toward homosexuality.
In his 2015 documentary, Sharma records his entire hajj, and discusses his sentiments toward each of his experiences. The film also conceptualizes the danger of filming the experience in Saudi Arabia, an act that is forbidden in the country.
In his 2017 memoir, however, Sharma offers a different insight into the dangers he faces as an openly gay man in Saudi Arabia. He is able to intricately describe his vast range of emotions upon completing the holiest of tasks in Islam: discussing moments of fearing being caught, doubts of his own faith, shame of his sexual orientation, and joy of completing his religious duty.

Sharma takes an equal focus to discussing the several issues Islam has within itself, including the bitter rivalry between the Sunni and Shia, and the dangers of the extremist Wahhabi doctrine that prevails in Saudi Arabia. The discussions of the rise of global terrorism through extremist groups such as Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS) ultimately show the difference between Islam and its followers, and the extremist interpretation followed by radicals.
Sharma also explores a series of other topics throughout his work, such as the commercialization of the religious hajj, the immense amounts of litter and garbage that plague the most holy Islamic land and, of course, the hypocrisy of anti-homosexuality seen throughout the Islamic world.
A Sinner in Mecca has received an extensive amount of praise for the captivating and brave story told by Sharma. Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and host of CNN’s Believer, said: “Parvez Sharma’s heroism is rare and his courage well documented. Putting his own life at risk, he takes us on a surprising and compelling journey through the front lines of his much-contested faith. A brilliant follow-up to his films, A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca.”
Sharma’s international fame began in 2007, when he released his first documentary, A Jihad for Love, which explores the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality. Despite its accolades and popularity, his documentary proved to be very controversial, resulting in numerous death threats, online hatred and fatwahs.
Sharma currently resides in New York, and his extensive works on politics as well as racial and Islamic issues have appeared in publications such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian and The Daily Beast. While acting as a speaker on Islamic issues at a number of live events, Sharma has also been included in “50 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World,” which was initiated by the Dalai Lama.

DANIEL MITRI is a Toronto-based writer with a strong interest in music, politics and cooking. If he’s not playing his bass guitar, you can find him poking through vintage record stores and frequenting 24-hour restaurants.

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