From the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow
Based on the New York Times' Critic Pick documentary
"The first book about the Hajj from a gay perspective, written by a man with a deep knowledge of Islamic history. This pilgrimage is the centerpiece of his book, and he recounts it with courage and fierce emotion."
This is the Islam you've never been allowed to see. Daringly reported from its frontlines and forbidden to most of humanity for centuries.
The Hajj pilgrimage is a journey every Muslim is commanded by God to go on at least once in a lifetime if they are able and, like millions, Parvez Sharma believes his spiritual salvation lies at Islam's ground zero, Mecca. But unlike the journeys of his fellow Muslims, the consequences of his own could be deadly.
In A Sinner in Mecca, author, filmmaker, and 2018 Guggenheim Fellow Parvez chronicles his pilgrimage as a very openly gay Muslim to Saudi Arabia, where Islam's heart beats . . . and where being true to himself is punishable by death. Risking his life, Parvez embarks on a Jihad of the self—filming his experience along the way. Already under fire for his documentary A Jihad for Love, which looks at the coexistence of Islam and homosexuality, he would undoubtedly face savage punishment if exposed—from being thrown off a cliff to public beheading.
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. In Mecca, Parvez comes out to a pilgrim, who then asks him why he would want to be part of something that wants no part of him. This book is his answer to this question and many more. Parvez provides an unflinching look at our troubling unfolding history, including Hizbullah, ISIS, Trump, the race-wars, an embattled Europe, and more. He offers real solutions, borne of his efforts to get his hands dirty to find them. This is a lived history—and its author is no armchair theorist.
Following the New York Times Critics' Pick hit documentary of the same title, A Sinner in Mecca unflinchingly showcases parts of the dangerous ideology that governs today's ISIS and how much it has in common with Saudi Arabia's sacred, yet treacherous dogma, Wahhabi Islam.
A Sinner in Mecca is simultaneously one man's personal odyssey as well as a groundbreaking, provocative revelation of a clandestine world and its fastest growing and most contested religion.
Sharma, a documentary filmmaker and Indian-born gay American Muslim, recounts his experience performing the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca incumbent on every Muslim. The book ranges widely through the little-explored world of queer Muslims, including subjects such as Sharma himself, a lesbian friend accompanying him on the Hajj, and a gay South African imam he interviews. Sharma's writing reflects his own curiosity and desire to expand readers' horizons, yet this expansiveness is both a strength and a weakness: he switches frequently between topics and times, and the narrative can become scattered and hard to follow as Sharma also tries to tackle the influence of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, the distinction between Shi'a and Sunni Islam, his relationship with his family (especially his mother), his experiences with anti-Muslim discrimination in post-9/11 America, and his creative biography and former films. Ultimately, the work is fascinating but flawed, with many of its important topics tackled haphazardly; more reflective insight into Sharma's own faith journey, for example, might have tied the narrative together more closely.