A Sinner in Mecca
A Gay Muslim’s Hajj of Defiance
Parvez Sharma makes fearless award-winning films and authors bestselling books about faith, identity, social justice and the world’s unfortunate right-ward spiral. A Jihad for Love was the world’s first film on Islam and homosexuality. 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. “There is no doubting the courage and conviction of the New York documentarian Parvez Sharma. He has created a swirling, fascinating travelogue and a stirring celebration of devotion. We emerge from the film more enlightened” writes The New York Times, naming it a Critic’s Pick.
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.”
His new bestselling book, named after his smash-hit film it shares its title with is already garnering rave reviews. Religious scholar Reza Aslan calls it “a brilliant follow up to his films.” Excerpts from the book can be read at The Daily Beast and in The Huffington Post. Never an armchair theorist, Parvez grew up twenty minutes down the road from the Islamic seminary where the Taliban was born. He knew what Jihad meant when he was five.
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.
“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—who lauded his new book A Sinner in Mecca as “Written by a man with a deep knowledge of Islamic history, with courage and fierce emotion.” Towleroad says that the book “[Helps us] gain perspective on extremists and religion, but as a glass to view the world here in the United States, the challenges felt by the Muslim community, and the oppressive weight of the Trump administration.”
Sharma reported on both Tehran’s aborted Green Revolution in 2009 and the so-called Arab Spring in 2011—a year Osama bin Laden and Qaddafi were killed and he went under threat of beheading, if found out, to Saudi Arabia. A Sinner in Mecca (the film) has been called “An attack on Islam for promoting the disgusting act of homosexuality” by Ayatollah Khameini’s regime in Iran. The Hollywood Reporter has called it “Wrenching … gritty … surreal and transcendent; Visceral and Abstract … an undeniable act of courage and hope.” The Los Angeles Times said (Sharma was) “Challenging his own faith in the face of adversity” The Washington Post called it “Complex … Revelatory…” The Village Voice opined “Next time you hear politicians or right-wing broadcasters asking why “moderate” Muslims don't denounce terrorism, show them this movie.”
Sharma 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.
OUT Magazine twice named Sharma “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.
“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
“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
If you’ve ever wanted to know what Donald Trump, Jack Dorsey, ISIS, Daenerys Targaryen and Kimojis have in common you’ve got to get Parvez to your campus stat! Developed over more than a decade, filmed and authored at risk to life, including beheading A Jihad for Love, A Sinner in Mecca (film) and A Sinner in Mecca (book) form a historical narrative of 21st century Islam unlike none other. Parvez offers all three as evidence for his unique case (one of several). Yes, we live in times of unprecedented Islamophobia, but it is also time for Muslims to stop playing victims. Unlike any other speaker, Parvez offers LIVED solutions to our problems with Islam. Want to know the inner workings of ISIS and their media machines? Do you think Mecca, Saudi Arabia is the perfect place for terrorists to meet? Parvez answers this and many more. Why did the Arab Spring turn into many Islamist winters; how does ISIS really work; What do Jack Dorsey, Donald Trump and Barack Obama really have in common and where do Hizbullah and the Iranians really get to hang. He knows exactly how to frame Islamophobia and the reasons for it. And he knows Jihad well; he lived it. No one is talking about Islam from this perspective. A Sinner in Mecca takes off where his widely acclaimed film ended. This new journey unfolds with cinematic thriller like alacrity. Parvez takes us from Beirut to Mecca, from Cairo to Karachi and Tehran, from Peshawar where young men crushed by poverty are sold for “martyrdom” to Kashmir—one of the worlds most intractable problems to Kuala Lumpur that claims to have the keys to a progressive vision of Islam. If you think contemporary Islam has a few problems, Parvez has some real solutions—built from years of getting his hands dirty in the trenches of his faith, with the shadow of hate in the form of fatwas or death threats constantly hanging over his head. From Obama to Osama, from Trump to ISIS to the evils of the Saudi monarchy and the (Wahhabi) havoc they have caused in all Islam—this book connects dots in unprecedented fashion. Parvez’s odyssey is at once audacious, global, and remarkable. He meets everyone from extremists to explorers of the spiritual kind and the world they open up is frightening, yet breathtaking.
To Parvez it is clear. Cinema as we know it, is becoming redundant. He builds with audio visual elements a very Virtual Reality-like world, which he calls Cinema 3.0. He recently lectured on this topic at Harvard and other Ivy League schools and also many in the UCLA system. This is a man who made an entire 79-minute film on an iPhone. He knows what is he talking about when he takes on students of cinema, television, media, journalism and more.
Using his thoughtful and provocative film A Sinner in Mecca, and the newly-released companion book, 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 Parvez 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.