Parvez Sharma

A 21st century Islamic reformation is critical, and long overdue.

Award-Winning Filmmaker of A Sinner in Mecca and A Jihad for Love

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Parvez Sharma | Award-Winning Filmmaker of A Sinner in Mecca and A Jihad for Love
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Parvez Sharma makes fearless, award-winning documentaries about faith, identity, and social justice. In A Sinner in Mecca, shot mostly with an iPhone, guerrilla-style, Sharma travels to Mecca to reveal a side of Islam that’s literally never been seen before—a powerful religion in urgent need of reformation from within. “We emerge from the film more enlightened,” writes The New York Times

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 latest 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—titled A Sinner in Mecca: A Gay Muslim’s Hajj of Defiance—arrives this August. Religious scholar Reza Aslan calls it “a brilliant follow up to his films.”

 

“Parvez’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 frontlines of his much contested faith. A brilliant follow-up to his films.”

— Reza Aslan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zealot : The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Sharma’s writings on Islamic, racial, and political issues have frequently appeared on The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and The Guardian, to name a few. He is a prominent speaker on Islam, politics, extremism, personal identity, and the media, speaking at more than 200 live events around the world and conducting workshops with the United Nations, European Union, US State Department, and Department of Homeland Security. He reported actively about the “Green Movement” in Iran and blogged about the revolution in Egypt, providing a local perspective on international events and an intimate view of history. Currently, he is in pre-production for a third film.

 

“Parvez Sharma’s Hajj pilgrimage is not only a journey to Mecca but to his deepest self. Both a Muslim and an out gay man, Sharma writes bravely and brilliantly. His religion is ancient. His story is timeless.”

— Kevin Sessums, New York Times bestselling author of Mississippi Sissy and I Left It On the Mountain

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.

 

“With his powerful, brave book, A Sinner in Mecca, Parvez Sharma takes us on his hero’s pilgrimage, teaching us of an ethereal truth: the qibla, or direction of Mecca, resides within each one of our hearts.”

— Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone in Mecca

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.   

Speech Topics

Religion
A Sinner in Mecca An Unfinished and Urgent Jihad

Using his thoughtful and provocative film A Sinner in Mecca (and book adaptation, coming this August), 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.

 
Gender & Sexuality
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.