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For one openly gay Muslim, a pilgrimage to Mecca carries threat of death


The struggles normally associated with making an independent documentary are largely associated with costs; the cost of paying for equipment and rentals, the cost of paying the actors and crew and keeping them fed, the costs associated with marketing and promoting the film. But for openly gay Muslim, Parvez Sharma, the costs associated with making his documentary A Sinner in Mecca included the very real threats to his life. “For a gay filmmaker, filming in Saudi Arabia presents two serious challenges: filming is forbidden in the country and homosexuality is punishable by death.”

The documentary, which filmed, among other things, the mass pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims – known as the “Hajj” – with two smuggled cameras and iPhone, put the Indian-born filmmaker in constant fear for his safety. But, as he told the Indian portal recently: “As a filmmaker and an activist intent on reforming Islam, it was important for me to challenge Saudi authority ‒ this is the most corrupt and secretive regime in Islam and they have an insidious and longstanding project to export their version of an 18th century Islam called Wahabi Islam, which is an Islam of fear. It is an Islam that reserves the death penalty for openly gay Muslims like me.”

And according to, which picked up on the story, the film also explores “the brash commercialization of the five-day Hajj experience, the harsh treatment of Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslims and the filthy conditions created by the mass overcrowding for the event, which Muslims are expected to attend at least once in their lives.”

Meanwhile, The Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival has implemented strict security measures for next week’s world premiere of A Sinner in Mecca. Hot Docs Communications Director Jonathan Da Silva told The Hollywood Reporter about hiring personal security for Sharma, “Hot Docs strives to ensure that all guests feel safe and secure while attending the festival, and out of an abundance of caution we felt this measure was appropriate.”

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