In his latest work, acclaimed filmmaker Parvez Sharma invites his audience into a world forbidden to the majority of the world's population. Mecca, one of the two most sacred cities in Islam, is where the prophet Muhammad was born, and it is home to the Grand Mosque, a site visited by millions of muslims every year during the annual pilgrimage of the Hajj. It is a city closed off to non-muslims, a place where recording devices are prohibited. Nonetheless, it is where Sharma--an openly gay muslim who has been publicly labeled an infidel for claiming that Islam and homosexuality are compatible--has chosen to bravely focus his documentary, A Sinner In Mecca.
The film -- which premiers in April during Toronto's Hot Doc's festival -- follows his journey on Hajj, a pillar of Islam and a requirement for all muslims who are physically and financially able to travel to Mecca. With only his iPhone and the two small video recorders he was able to smuggle in, Sharma documented his attempt to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.
Arriving in Mecca on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the region was charged, making it far more dangerous than usual for someone who had been marked out and threatened by his co-religionists. It is an unprecedented exploration of Islam, and one that Sharma hopes will help spark discourse on its place in the world, and homosexuality's place within it.
"I would hope that work like this shakes a little bit the foundations of the Saudi monarchy," Sharma told The Daily Beast, noting that since it was announced that the film would be screening in Toronto, he has already received more than 100 hate letters.
"To be honest, I expected this, but I didn't expect so many so soon," he said. "I totally planted my resolve. I have to do this. I have to do this because of this [hate]."