Movie Review - A Sinner in Mecca

Director Parvez Sharma is a Muslim man who is openly gay. He's originally from India but he now lives in New York City. Sharma is very religious and very much loves his culture, but he did marry a white, atheist pianist, but, according to tradition, all Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia that is considered the holiest place in Islam. This pilgrimage is called a Hajj. All Muslims must take a Hajj before they die.

The problem is that in addition to the Muslim faith itself, Saudi Arabia is a very homophobic country. It's arguably the most homophobic country in the Middle East. It's highly anti-gay and anti-feminist. Sharma in fact opens this documentary with reports of gay people getting killed by beheading in Saudi Arabia. Sharma wants to take his Hajj but doing so requires him entering into a homophobic hornet's nest.

This documentary is about Sharma taking his Hajj any way. He also points out that filming in Mecca is forbidden, even though people do get away with it, so he has to make this movie somewhat clandestinely. He basically uses his smart phone to do so.

He also has a cameraman accompany him. This person is never identified, but obviously it's not Sharma's husband. This cameraman only goes so far. This person doesn't accompany Sharma to the Kaaba, which is the black cube at the center of Mecca's main place of worship, the Sacred Mosque, which perhaps has the strictest rules.

As a window into a lesser known or publicized tradition in Islam, this documentary is fine. As a personal journey for Sharma as he completes a requirement for his faith, this doc is a bit more problematic.

Sharma asks, "Is it possible for me to be a good Muslim?" Yet, he never defines what a "good Muslim" actually is. If a good Muslim is someone who simply performs a set of prescribed rituals almost robotically or mechanically, then the answer is yes. The real question that Sharma should ask is if a person who does all the required rituals like Hajj but who also beheads gay people, is a good Muslim or not. That person might say yes but if Sharma is the one getting beheaded, would he think that person killing him is a "good Muslim."

The closest that Sharma comes to realizing the implications of that question is a ritual goat-killing that he feels he has to perform. It's one thing to kill a farm animal because you're starving and you have to eat, but the ritual goat-killing is simply to echo a story in the Koran. There's no logical explanation of repeating an act in history as a way of commemorating or honoring it, specifically something as drastic as slitting an animal's throat simply to watch it bleed.

Sharma's feeling after the goat-killing is indicative of the ridiculousness of it. His feeling isn't one of exultation or feeling closer to God or Allah. Senseless killing of any animal, big or small, shouldn't. Why would it? One can learn the lessons without copying the actions, especially such gross and extreme actions.

I give Sharma a lot of credit for taking this trip, but I give someone like Barbara Walters more credit because she was an absolute foreigner who came to Saudi Arabia and talked to people and asked challenging questions while there. Yes, Sharma went, but he knows the language and culture and can easily blend. The threat he establishes at the beginning never feels real once he's there.

It's not as if Sharma went to Mecca with his white husband and kissed him in front of the Kaaba. It's funny when in one scene Sharma captures two men walking arm-in-arm through Mecca, and he makes no bones about it. The two men probably weren't gay but there are gay men in Saudi Arabia, maybe near that area. Sharma at one point chats online with one such Saudi gay man. It's a shame that Sharma didn't try to find that man, while he was there.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains a scene of violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 19 mins.


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