Gay Muslim filmmaker risks death in pilgrimage to reconcile faith and sexuality‏

Mon Jun 8, 2015 4:21pm EDT
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By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of Muslims each year make the arduous and exhausting haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but for one filmmaker, it was a journey that could have cost him his life.

The documentary "A Sinner in Mecca", which screened at the Sheffield Doc Fest on Sunday, follows Parvez Sharma, a gay Muslim living in New York, on his once-in-a-lifetime journey to a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.

For many Muslims, traveling to Mecca is the culmination of their entire lives, but for Sharma, who secretly filmed his pilgrimage on an iPhone, it was borne of a need to prove that he could reconcile his sexuality with his devotion to Islam.

Sharma said he was fortunate to be allowed into the conservative Islamic kingdom, despite his sexuality and a film career in which he has challenged conservative Islam.

"I was going back into the closet as a gay man, and also a filmmaker," said Sharma, who was publicly labeled an infidel in Saudi Arabia for his 2007 film "A Jihad for Love", which documented the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims worldwide.

"I was probably the most public Muslim homosexual on the planet... and my "sins" were very visible to anyone would care to simply search for my name online," Sharma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the annual film festival.

As a stark reminder of the chasm between Sharma's sexuality and his faith, the film opens with an exchange of distressed messages on a gay social network site between the filmmaker in New York and his friend Mo in the Saudi city of Medina.

In a frantic flurry of keystrokes, Mo recalls watching the beheading of a man in public, who he says was rumored to have been executed because he was accused of being gay.   Continued...