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For a gay filmmaker, filming in Saudi Arabia presents two serious challenges: filming is forbidden in the country and homosexuality is punishable by death. For filmmaker Parvez Sharma, however, these were risks he had to assume as he embarked on his Hajj pilgrimage, a journey considered the greatest accomplishment and aspiration within Islam, his religion. On his journey Parvez aims to look beyond 21st-century Islam’s crises of religious extremism, commercialism and sectarian battles. He brings back the story of the religion like it has never been told before, having endured the biggest jihad there is: the struggle with the self.


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Release: Apr 29, 2015

IMDb: 7.0

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A Sinner in Mecca full movie review - Mecca Has Always Fascinated Me

Parvez Sharma (who made this movie) is a gay Muslim. That, in itself, made this interesting. It seems contradictory.

However what really appealed to me was the promise that this film seemed to make to give the viewer a look at Mecca - the holiest city of Islam, located in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia itself seems strange and distant enough. Mecca is actually closed to non-Muslims, which gives it a sort of "forbidden fruit" appeal even to me, as a Christian. I can't go there, but what would I find if I did? Sharma's film promised to give me a glimpse of this off-limits city.

Some of the film is shot in New York, where Sharma lives with his boyfriend, and it depicts a bit of their relationship up to their marriage. I really didn't find that particularly interesting. Some of the film is also set in Sharma's birthplace in India. Some of that is interesting. But for the most part the movie is set in Mecca. Sharma travels there for the Hajj - the pilgrimmage that every Muslim is required to make to the Holy City. I assume that filming in Mecca is discouraged if not illegal, because Sharma uses only a cell phone camera and seems to be filming clandestinely. We do get to see a lot of Mecca through his cell phone. Some of it is very beautiful. I appreciated the look inside the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque and at the Kabbah, traditionally the first house of worship for Islam, built by Abraham. There's something transfixing about watching the ritual of pilgrims circling the Kabbah. I can understand how that could actually be a powerful spiritual experience for some. Some of the other rituals, including the symbolic stoning of the devil, are shown. This gave me a better understanding of the Hajj - what it's about and what it tries to accomplish. At the same time it's rather jarring to see the commercialism that now accompanies the pilgrimmage (the shopping centre apparently connected to the mosque struck me as very un- Islamic) and the reflections on the amount of garbage the pilgrims leave littering the street and the question of how that shows respect for Allah was interesting.

I could appreciate Sharma's courage - in filming things he wasn't supposed to be filming, but also simply in being a gay Muslim in Mecca - which likely would not have been well received if anyone had known. It seemed clear that Sharma also struggled with being a gay Muslim and was trying in some ways to come to peace with his own faith. Personally, I thought there was too much filler revolving around his relationship with his boyfriend in New York. That didn't interest me at all. But I did come away from this feeling as though I had a better understanding of the Hajj.

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