Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker of A Sinner in Mecca and A Jihad for Love
“Wrenching … gritty … surreal and transcendent; visceral and abstract … a true act of courage and hope”—The Hollywood Reporter
“Next time you hear politicians or right-wing broadcasters asking why “moderate” Muslims don't denounce terrorism, show them this movie”—The Village Voice
Hailed as a “gifted filmmaker” (The Wall Street Journal), “frankly brave” (NPR), and “provocative” (San Francisco Chronicle), Parvez Sharma is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. His new film, A Sinner in Mecca, set in the beating heart of Islam in Saudi Arabia, has just been launched to a storm of publicity and rave reviews. The New York Times calls it a “swirling, fascinating travelogue and a stirring celebration of devotion,” while The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a true act of courage and hope.” A book version of the film is set to be released next year.
Sharma also directed and produced the international phenomenon A Jihad for Love, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and opened the prestigious Panorama Dokumente section of the Berlin International Film Festival. The winner of seven international awards, A Jihad for Love went on to screen for over eight million people in 51 nations. The documentary deals with the difficult themes of Islam and homosexuality in a post-September-11 world, challenging Islamic stereotypes that misrepresent much of the religion and its one billion followers. A Jihad for Love was historically the world’s first on Islam and homosexuality. Sharma was the first to take Jihad and daringly put the word right next to Love. He is also the world’s first filmmaker to infiltrate Mecca, guerrilla style, and show the world a Saudi Arabia they have never been allowed to see.
Sharma was named one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by Utne Reader in a list headed by the Dalai Lama. OUT Magazine named him “one of the 100 gay men and women who have helped shape our culture during the year.” He is also the winner of the prestigious GLAAD media award for Outstanding Documentary. Sharma has three Masters degrees, was educated in India, the UK and the US, and has worked as an adjunct professor at American University, developing and teaching, amongst other courses, the university’s first curriculum on Bollywood and other Indian cinemas. He teaches New Media at Pace University in New York.
Understanding the Front Lines of Religion and Race
Being gay and being Muslim lives at the heart of the July 2016 carnage in Orlando. It also lies at the heart of Parvez Sharma’s work. With his work in the Arab Middle East and his scholarship, Sharma offers a different take on this tragedy for us. As a gay and American Muslim, his two remarkable films (A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca—both part of a long journey of homosexuality in the path of Islam) afford an opportunity to debate the most critical issues of our time. Does ISIS get to speak for Islam? Who gets to speak about the truth of Islam’s conflicted relationship to homosexuality? Perhaps a gay Muslim does: someone who grew up in a small Muslim town in India’s north, where Jihad was a concept often discussed in whispers. Finally, as a new American citizen, Sharma shines the mirror in all of our faces—will we, like the rest of the world, become swept up in a wave of right-wing chauvinism? Or will we as a nation stand up to an irrational fear of the other, which is what both Mateen and Trump are about? Their hate? Simply a mirror reflection of the other. The solution to it? Allowing voices like Sharma’s to be heard. He has always believed that “our last wars will be on the front lines of religion and race.”
A Sinner in Mecca: An Unfinished and Urgent Jihad
Using his thoughtful and provocative new film A Sinner in Mecca, Parvez challenges Saudi Arabia and its puritanical form of Islam called Wahhabism: a mode of belief lying at the roots of the ideology of ISIS and dangerously exported around the Muslim world. He makes the case for why a 21st century Islamic reformation is critical, and long overdue. He comes full circle, bringing the Jihad (or struggle) of Islam’s reformation back to himself: he argues why contemporary Islam is at war with itself, and why, as a practicing Muslim, he has fought so hard to not be a casualty. A Sinner in Mecca reports from the heart of Islam, and Sharma emerges from the trenches with a remarkable message. A pilgrim amongst millions, this defiant and openly gay Muslim is reporting from the very frontlines of Islam’s many battles. After all, these are battles that remain to be fought and won—importantly, by Muslims like him.
A Jihad for Love: Islam and Homosexuality
Faith and fear characterize the lives of hundreds of thousands of gay Muslims around the world. They live their lives in secret; their voices have been silenced by regimes that police strict forms of morality. Using his award-winning films A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca, Sharma takes on this fear of faith in the lives of countless LGBT Muslims. He explains the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that exists in regimes like Saudi Arabia—where hypocrisy and sexuality go hand in hand. He talks about the last battles that remain to be fought for LGBT Muslims, and how they will be fought on the frontlines of religion. Using his deeply personal, moving, and empowering story of his journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to find redemption, he is able to explain the nature of faith in gay lives. With candor and bravery, he explains why religious Muslims want to be a part of something that does not want any part of them.
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