Sometimes, it is outside the classroom where we learn the most about the world. This can definitely be applied to the showing of the 2015 documentary “A Sinner in Mecca” that was held on April 26. Sponsored by Pride Alliance, the film and talk-back with the director, Parvez Sharma, showed a world that many may not be familiar with.
The documentary follows Sharma, a gay Muslim man, as he makes the life-changing pilgrimage to Mecca. What makes this film so powerful are the risks that Sharma goes through to show the world his story. Filming in Mecca is forbidden, and homosexuality is a crime that is punishable by death.
For Sharma, taking risks and being unapologetic is almost second nature. Both this documentary and his first, “A Jihad for Love,” have sparked much controversy and backlash, especially in the Islamic community. Sharma constantly receives hate mail and death threats but uses his faith as solace.
“There is no question that Islam will accept me. The question is, if I will accept Islam,” he said.
The documentary shows the in-depth process of Hajj Pilgrimage, all told through the camera of an iPhone. The audience follows Sharma everywhere and gets to see every step of his journey. They get to see him as he circles around and touches The Kaaba, the most sacred mosque in the Islamic world, and as he throws stones at the Jamarat, which are three large stones symbolic of the Devil.
The documentary also shows the culture of Islam while telling Sharma’s personal story. Mecca is historically rich but has been changed significantly by Western influence. Showing a mall with a Starbucks, Sharma purposefully showed how present commercialism is, even in a sacred place.
Throughout the film, the viewer experiences nervousness, because it is known that filming everything is a risk that can result in imprisonment.
Following the film, the audience got to talk to Sharma and ask questions about the film, his work and life. He expanded on many topics and shared his opinions on how the West and East can have many different viewpoints on major topics.
“Americans love labels to place people in boxes. For example, LGBTQ. Most Muslims prefer ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I think we need to let them figure out their own solutions,” he said.
Pride Alliance adviser Jennifer Hildebrand attended the event and enjoyed not only the film but the discussion that shared even more about Islam and Sharma’s life.
“As our world population continues to grow, and as technologies, including social media, make it possible to be more and more interconnected, I think that listening to folks with different experiences and views from our own and finding ways to cooperate and collaborate with them is going to be seen as an increasingly valuable skill,” she said.
The viewing and talk-back on Sharma’s documentary not only revealed a truth that not many people are aware of, but also presented a new way of looking at the world and the workings of another culture.