Gay-Muslim Parvez Sharma has gone where no one has gone before... or not that we know of anyway!
The Indian-born New Yorker secretly challenged Saudi Arabian authorities and filmed his entire pilgrimage to Mecca using only his iPhone.
He didn't stop there. Sharma interviewed at least 50 pilgrims and released the entire footage as a documentary, that's already been screened in Britain and North America.
Also in the documentary is footage of Sharma tying the knot to his American husband in New York.
It goes without saying that "A Sinner in Mecca" has generated a wide online hate campaign, as millions of Muslims have found a gay man in the holiest place on earth "offensive" and "against Islam."
Despite receiving death threats, Sharma needed to take on this journey to reconcile his faith with his sexuality, in addition to addressing the need for Saudi to change its strict Wahhabi form of Islam.
Sharma argues that his film is a wake-up call for a faith that's been "hijacked by a violent minority."
"Islam is imploding upon itself right now and there's a huge crisis," Sharma told AFP.
"It (a reformation) is happening, but it is happening too slowly and we're running out of time."
"The change needs to happen with Wahhabi Islam -- that is the root of all the problems," he said.
Just like Christianity, Islam is divided into several sects; Sharma practices the Sufi branch of Islam, which unlike Wahhabism embraces music and a more mystical approach to faith.
Sharma's journey to Hajj
As if filming his entire pilgrimage wasn't risky enough, Sharma said he'd deliberately chosen the year 2011 - four months after Osama Bin Laden was killed and seven months after the Arab Spring began - to go to Mecca.
"I felt that it would be the most interesting time to go with all this churning going on in the Muslim world."
His entire footage was of course smuggled out of the austere country.
"Early on," he explains, "my iPhone was taken away by the religious police and they deleted initial early footage," he said.
"These guys walk around with sticks and hit you if you're doing something they consider un-Islamic, and I was on the wrong end of the stick several times."
"There is nothing kind about this process," Sharma says in the film, after having had to stand on a bus an entire night to go to Mount Arafat.
Sharma found out the hard way that Hajj is anything but easy, describing his experience as "probably the most violent night of my entire life."
While the film was described as "an important and rare film" by Cut Print Film reviewer David Savage, Iran denounced the production and Sharma was yelled at by furious Saudi women at a screening of the doc in Britain.
"I hope that Muslims will eventually react positively," he told AFP.
"A Sinner in Mecca" premieres in New York cinemas on Friday (September 4) before being aired on European television and Netflix in coming months.
© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)