|Thousands of Muslims circling the Kaaba in Mecca, |
as seen in 'A Sinner in Mecca'
Sharma is an openly gay Muslim filmmaker who previously directed 'A Jihad for Love.' His new film chronicles his own personal and spiritual journey to visit Mecca, a journey all Muslims are supposed to make at least once during their lifetimes.
The CBC ran stories about Sharma and his film yesterday:
"The Hajj is the highest calling for any Muslim," he told CBC News. "For years I felt I really needed to go, so this film is about me coming out as a Muslim. I'm done coming out as a gay man."
He videotaped his journey to Mecca surreptitiously on his iPhone and other small cameras that looked like phones since filming isn't permitted in Saudi Arabia and homosexuality can be punished by death.
"I was terrified because they reserve the death penalty for people like me," Sharma said.
Several times he had his equipment seized and video files deleted by authorities. But he persevered with both his spiritual journey and his film.
"I was there making this pilgrimage for the thousands of gay Muslims who were too scared to go to Saudi Arabia, who would feel they would never be welcome," Sharma said. "I felt I was doing it for them."
...The film's very existence has earned Sharma hate mail and death threats from angry Muslims.
The film was also denounced by the Iranian government for promoting homosexuality. The Hot Docs festival has added extra security for the filmmaker's safety and for patrons attending the three sold-out screenings."
My take on the film: it is a stunning journey documented with meticulous detail by Sharma that I won't forget. As a non-Muslim Westerner (and non-religious person) who will never be able to journey to these locations, it was incredibly illuminating.
Sharma's voice over accompanying his visuals make clear the immense physical challenges he and others endure to make this trip, including the pushing through mass crowds circling the Kaaba (pictured above) as most try to touch it. The circling goes on 24/7. "There is nothing kind" about this, remarks Sharma. Instead of being a moment of solemn prayer and reflection, it's an exhausting shoving match not for the faint of heart, it seems. Near this holiest of Muslim sites, Saudi royalty has seen fit to allow a Starbucks franchise and various other commercial outlets to be opened. The clash between solemn religion and modern capitalist hypocrisy couldn't be more stunning.
Sharma even sacrifices a goat to fulfil his journey, the final step in his religious purification, he says. The bloody scene is awful to watch. In the end, Sharma says he feels empty, but relieved he made the journey. He also states the experience bolsters his desire to see a "reformation" in Islam.
Non-Muslims will see things in this film they will never otherwise see. I'd say the same goes for Muslims as well. As a gay man who has also struggled to find a place within organized religion, I found Sharma's journey and film to be fascinating. I highly recommend it.
'A Sinner in Mecca' plays again this weekend at Hot Docs, and later in May will screen at Toronto's LGBT Inside Out film festival.