Stirring, sad, and at times truly frightening, director Parvez Sharma’s vital, personal doc reveals the filmmaker’s attempt at hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that it is the duty of Muslims to undertake once in a lifetime.
There’s much that’s fascinating in Sharma’s footage of believers circling the Kaaba or tracing the footsteps of Muhammad, and his narration is marked with both reverence and its opposite. As he enters a swirling crowd, he compares himself to a drop of water rejoining the ocean — yet he resists the anonymity such language suggests.
Sharma is not just openly gay; he’s recently married a man in New York, he’s the director of the previous doc A Jihad for Love, and he’s traversing the holiest cities of his faith with a camera and a sense of pained curiosity: Here he is, confronting his god, not long after a man he has met on the ManJam website for gay Muslims has described to him witnessing the public execution of a homosexual.
Sharma captures gossip about honor killings and a terrifying scene of animal sacrifice, but the most harrowing material here involves his return to his mother’s home in India — she never forgave his gayness, he tells us, and he wonders aloud, “Did the shame of my sexuality kill her?” Fortunately, the pilgrimage isn’t all harrowing, and Sharma illuminates both the need in his own life for faith and tradition and the contradictions he sees in what he calls a religion “at war with itself.”
Next time you hear politicians or right-wing broadcasters asking why “moderate” Muslims don’t denounce terrorism, show them this movie — and maybe suggest they develop an interest in films not marketed to them.
A Sinner in Mecca
Directed by Parvez Sharma
Opens September 4, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2015