Parvez Sharma

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Parvez Sharma
Parvez Sharma at a showing of A Jihad for Love in Washington, DC, USA, 2008-09-07
Parvez Sharma at a showing of A Jihad for Love in Washington, D.C. on 7 September 2008
Born 8 July 1976
India
Residence New York City
Alma mater University of Calcutta
Jamia Millia Islamia University
Cardiff University
American University
Occupation Filmmaker and writer
Website https://parvezsharma.com/

Parvez Sharma is a New York-based Indian filmmaker, author, and journalist. He is a recipient of the 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in the film/video category.[1][2][3][4][5][3][6] He was amongst the 173 fellows selected from 3000 applicants in the 94th year of the fellowship, which originally started in 1925. In an official press release by the foundation, president Edward Hirsch said, "The winners of the 94th annual competition as "the best of the best...This diverse group of scholars, artists, and scientists are appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise."[2][7][8] Sharma is best known for his two films A Jihad for Love[9], A Sinner in Mecca[10], and his book published in 2017 called, "A Sinner in Mecca: A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance".[11][12][13][14][15] His film, A Jihad for Love was the world's first film documenting the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims.[16][12][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] He received the 2009 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary amongst several other international awards for A Jihad for Love. In 2016, Sharma was named "a human rights defender" by Amnesty International.[26][27] This was an award given at the Hague in the Netherlands to "worldwide human rights activists" which he shared with the Saudi human rights activist Ensaf Haidar.[28][29][30]

In 2009, Sharma was named as one of "50 Visionaries changing your world" in a list headed by the Dalai Lama.[31][32][33][1][34] On 29 May 2013 at a DNC event at 583, Park Avenue in New York Sharma was honored as a "LGBT hero" by first-lady Michelle Obama at a DNC fundraiser in New York.[35][36][37][38][39] The event was hosted by Bravo's Andy Cohen and NBA star Jason Collins.[40][41][42]

His second film, A Sinner in Mecca, premiered at the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival[43] and is a New York Times Critics' Pick[44] amongst other press attention. A Jihad for Love was theatrically released in 33 cities.[45][45][46] A Sinner in Mecca was only theatrically released in four.[47][48][49][50][51][52] Over the years, worldwide press have profiled Parvez Sharma and reviewed his work.[2][53][54][55][56][57][58] For example, The New York Times collectively in two excerpts and two reviews, says [59]"There is no doubting the courage and conviction of the New York documentarian Parvez Sharma…We emerge from (Sharma's) films more enlightened, but arranging to meet (this filmmaker) is a little like setting up an appointment with an extremely polite spy. Nothing in his difficult processes -- including the threats to himself -- have destroyed Mr. Sharma's faith in the ability of Islam to tolerate diversity."[59][60] The newspaper also showcased his short films online.[61][62] In 2004 the New York Times had said, "threats to the director have become routine."[63][64] This was almost four years before A Jihad for Love was released.[65][63]

In a profile, The New Yorker said that it was in Mecca, Saudi Arabia that Parvez "finally found absolution."[66] He has been called a "gifted filmmaker," (The Wall Street Journal),[67] "frankly brave," (NPR)[68]"provocative" (San Francisco Chronicle) [69] and as carrying out "an attack on Islam" by Ayatollah Khamenei's regime in Iran[70]

Career

On 18 November 2017, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Sanctuary for Independent Media said, "For the past decade he has made fearless, multiple award winning films about faith, identity, religious extremism and social justice.[71] The Washington Post said about the second film, "In the film, Sharma condemns the Saudi government's strict interpretation of Islam, which he says promotes the dangerous ideology that produces groups such as the militant Islamic State." [72] Reviewing A Jihad for Love the newspaper had said, "Sharma is right to keep his focus tight. He is interested in the faithful and their conflicts, not the broader cultural issues surrounding sex and Islamic society."[73] The Los Angeles Times said Sharma "crossed several dangerous lines in his work and the government in Singapore banned A Jihad for Love and that the Muslim Judicial Council in South Africa has declared him an apostate."[74][75][76] Fridae Asia reported, "A Jihad for Love - which Singapore censors say is too controversial to be shown at the country's international film festival last year - was broadcast to potentially more than a billion in India and other countries by India's NDTV."[77] A Jihad for Love was banned from the Singapore International Film Festival in 2008 by the Media Development Authority, which oversees the censorship board, "in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle." About 14 percent of Singapore's 4.4 million population is Muslim.[77] Singapore banned A Sinner in Mecca as well as did Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yet semi-open screenings were held in Cairo, Kuala Lumpur and Karachi.[78] A Sinner in Mecca was also banned in Singapore, "The public screening of A Sinner In Mecca by Parvez Sharma is cancelled as the film received a 'Not Allowed For All Ratings' (NAR) classification from the Media Development Authority. Hence, the Festival is unable to go ahead with the public screening for this film."[79] In just its opening week during a limited release of 33 cities, A Jihad for Love, for example, ran for four weeks at New York's IFC theaters.[80] The film grossed "$22,287," (out of which, $10,519 was just in New York).[81][82][83] The Domestic Total Gross for the film is $105,659.[84] In comparison, A Sinner in Mecca was only released in four cities, for a week each.[85][86] Its box office numbers were low, except in New York where it had a higher box office return of $11,220. However, in totality it made a much smaller amount during its run-time.[48][50]

Filmmaker magazine in 2008 said " He also produced and edited the Sundance Grand Jury Award winner Silverlake Life (1993) and acted as assistant director on the award-winning Indian drama Dance of the Wind (1997)."[87]

Filmography

Title Year Notes Ref.
Dance of the Wind 1997 Assistant Director, Assistant Casting [88]
Twenty Four Hours (Farooq Abdullah) (Star TV) 1998 Producer, Correspondent
The Gujarat Trilogy (Star TV) 1999 Producer, Correspondent
Arranged Shaadi (BBC World and Star TV) 1999 Producer, Correspondent
In The Name of Allah 2002 Director, Cinematographer, Producer [89]
Silverlake Life 2003 Additional Camera, Assistant Editor (DVD)
Tying The Knot 2004 Associate Producer [90]
The Hour (TV Series) 2007 Interviewed [91]
A Jihad for Love 2008 Director, Cinematographer, Producer [92]
A Sinner in Mecca 2015 Director, Writer, Producer, Cinematographer [93]

General

As a commentator on Islamic, racial and political issues, Sharma's writings have appeared on The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and The Guardian.[94]

In 2009 Sharma reported about the aborted Green Movement in Iran using firsthand accounts and interviews with friends in Tehran and often giving readers of The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast a look into the workings of the uprising.[95]

In early 2011 Sharma blogged about the revolution in Egypt, providing a local perspective on the events.[96] He spoke about the nature and extent of social media influence in the Middle East to press across the world, including interviews with newspapers in China, including the South China Morning Post and interviews on various US networks including CNBC, MSNBC and FOX News.

Sharma continues to be a commentator on Islamic, racial and political issues. In 2009 Sharma wrote the foreword for the anthology Islam and Homosexuality[97] (Praeger, 2009). He was interviewed and his work was profiled in journalist Robin Wrights book 'Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion in the Middle East'.[98] His work on the Arab Spring was profiled in author Cole Strykers book 'Hacking the Future: Privacy, Identity and Anonymity on the Web'.[99][100] In 2007 he wrote a chapter for the book Gay Travels in the Muslim World.[101]

The US-based OUT Magazine named Sharma, one of the OUT 100 twice for 2008 and 2015- "one of the 100 gay men and women who have helped shape our culture during the year". In 2016 a year after Larry Kramer Sharma won the Monette Horowitz award given to individuals and organizations for their significant contributions toward eradicating homophobia.[102]

In his early career he has worked on programming for BBC World Television (India), the Discovery Channel (United States), and the World Bank (United States).

As an author Sharma is represented by literary agency Sterling Lord Literistic.[103] As a speaker, he was represented by Lavin Speakers [104] and Keppler Speakers.[105][106][107]

Awards

In 2018, Sharma was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in the film/video category.[1][2][3] In a press release, president Edward Hirsch said, "It's exceptionally satisfying to name 175 new Guggenheim Fellows. These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best. Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we're thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It's an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do."[8] Sharma becomes one of "18,000 individuals in 94 years, among whom are scores of Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, poets laureate, members of the various national academies, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Turing Award, National Book Awards, and other important, internationally recognized honors."[8]

Sharma has received awards and grants over the years including

The Sundance Documentary Fund [Dec, 2006][108]

Andy Warhol Foundation for The Visual Arts [Dec, 2006][109]

GLAAD Media Award, 2008 for Outstanding Documentary[92]

The Ted Snowdon Foundation [June, 2005][9]

The Hartley Film Foundation [June, 2005][110]

The Yip Harburg Foundation [Nov, 2005 and Aug, 2007]

Stonewall Community Fund [Nov, 2005][111]

H. van Ameringen Foundation [November 2005, June 2007, December 2007, October 2013, September 2015][112]

Foundation for Fairer Capitalism [Feb, 2006][111]

E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation [March, 2006][111]

Tides Foundation 4/2006 and [April, 2008][108]

Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, Inc. [May, 2006][108]

The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program [June, 2006][108]

Reid Williams Foundation [July, 2006][108]

The Fledgling Fund [Aug, 2006][25]

B.W. Bastian Foundation [Aug, 2006 and July, 2007][25]

The Reva & David Logan Foundation [Sep, 2006][109]

The Ford Foundation Matching Gift Program [Sep, 2006][9]

Jeff Lewy Trust [Sep, 2006]

Horizons Foundation [September 2006, October 2006, March, 2007, July 2007 and March 2008]

Rosenthal Rev. Trust [Oct, 2006]

Global Fund for Women [Oct, 2006]

Zeigler Family Trust [Nov, 2006]

The Katahdin Foundation [Dec, 2006]

The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation [Dec, 2006] and [Dec, 2007]

Arcus Foundation [Jan, 2007 and Jan, 2008]

Cinereach [Oct, 2005][113]

The CAA Foundation [Jan, 2007]

Gill Foundation [Jan, 2007 and Feb, 2007]

Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund [Jan, 2007]

Lucius & Eva Eastman Fund [April, 2007]

Arts PAC—Artists for Freedom Of Expression [June, 2007]

The Zacks Family Foundation [Aug, 2007]

The Ted Snowdon Foundation [Sep, 2007]

Cinereach Foundation [Sep, 2007 and March, 2008][18]

The Paul Rapoport Foundation [May, 2008]

Lesbian Equity Fund (Astraea) [April, 2008]

The Elliott H. Matthews Foundation [June, 2008]

Best Film, Image +Nation, Montreal 2008, 2015

Best Film, Mix Brasil 2008

Film Festivals

Parvez Sharma's work was screened and awarded in many film festivals including:

Milan International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival [2008][114]

Outfest - Grand Jury Award [2015][115]

Sheffield International Documentary Festival [2015][22]

Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival [2008][114]

Best Film, Tricontinental Festival India, 2008

Special Teddy, Berlin International Film Festival 2008[116][117]

Outfest, Los Angeles, Best Documentary, 2008 and 2015[22]

Best Film, Turin Film Festival, 2008

Best Film, Amal Arab Film Festival, 2008

Best Documentary, Rapid Lion Film Festival, Johannesburg [March, 2016]

Best Documentary, Reeling Film Festival, Chicago [Oct, 2018]

Best Documentary, One World International Film Festival, Prague, 2008

Films: A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca

Sharma is best known for directing the films A Jihad for Love and A Sinner in Mecca. A Jihad for Love is a documentary that seeks to refute the belief that LGBT Muslims do not exist.[118] This film was preceded by a short film called In the Name of Allah.[119]

Sharma, director and cinematographer of the film, came up with the idea after listening to the stories of gay Muslims when he attended American University. He decided to give a voice "to a community that really needed to be heard, and that until now hadn't been. It was about going where the silence was strongest."[120]

The film premiered in 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival and in 2008 at the Berlinale.[117][116] It went on to premier at more than a hundred film festivals globally and was released in theaters in the US and Canada in 2008 by First Run Features and Mongrel Media.[121] It was produced by Sandi Simcha DuBowski in association with Channel 4 Television (UK), ZDF (Germany), Arte (France), MTV-Logo (US), The Sundance Documentary Fund and SBS. While the film reveals homophobia and persecution in the Muslim world, Sharma has stated that the purpose of the film is not to vilify Islam. In an early interview he said:

The Islam that this film is seeking to reclaim is rich, it is pulsating, it's welcoming, condemning sometimes, it's loving, it's erotic, it's sensual, it's poetic and it's musical.[122]

A Jihad for Love had a theatrical release across 33 cities in the continental United States[45][45][46] and a theatrical release by Mongrel Media in Canada limited to Toronto and Vancouver.

Variety Magazine said in 2008, "A May theatrical run is planned, starting at Gotham's IFC Center"[123][124]

The film ran for four weeks at New York theatre, the IFC.[125][126] It ran for two weeks at the Los Angeles Laemmle Sunset Theater.[127]

A Jihad for Love was available on Netflix for five years from 2008 to 2012. It was televised in 18 countries including the UK, Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands and India, Pakistan, Bangladesh.

By 2011, Sharma had conducted live events and screenings of A Jihad for Love in many Muslim nations and capitals ranging from Beirut, Lebanon and Istanbul, Turkey, to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In Indonesiathe world's largest Muslim nation, the film did an 8-city tour to acclaim and also protests. : a multi city tour in Mexican theaters organized by Ambulante used the film as a tool for advocacy in deeply religious communities in that country.[128][129] The film also thrived underground, with private screenings of smuggled DVDs. In July 2009 Sharma conducted workshops on Islam and homosexuality with German parliamentarians in Berlin and was invited to screen and workshop A Jihad for Love by the European Union.[130] Sharma was first profiled by The New York Times in 2004 which said "Given the hostility toward homosexuality in some Islamic factions, Mr. Sharma has gone to great lengths to reassure many of his interview subjects that they will remain anonymous." [131]

The film also had its fair share of criticism. On 5 September 2008 Seattle Times said, "For all the research, courage and passion that went into it, the movie is sometimes curiously one-note."

With his second film, A Sinner in Mecca, The New York Times ran a second feature profile feature on Sharma on 24 September 2015, saying "The documentary, largely recorded on an iPhone strapped to Mr. Sharma's neck with rubber bands, shows the pilgrimage in unflinching detail. The result is a religious reality film, but also a piercing indictment of Saudi Arabia"[132] The piece also used clips from A Sinner in Mecca[133][134] The film premiered in Toronto at the 2015 HotDocs Canadian Film Festival and opened in theaters in the US on 4 September 2015.[50] The film won Best Documentary at Outfest, Los Angeles in July 2015.[135][136] In 2016, A Sinner in Mecca won a Rapid Lion for Best Documentary Feature in Johannesburg, South Africa. The film won Best Documentary at the Reeling Film Festival in Chicago.[137] It played at many film festivals including the Sheffield Film Festival in the UK in 2015, where it was nominated for Best Documentary.[138] At IDFA 2015 in Amsterdam, A Sinner in Mecca won a "Best of Fest" award and screenings.[139] A Sinner in Mecca received press and audience attention but also lead to online abuse, death threats and hate mail.[140][141][142] The film premiered in Canada on CBC's The Passionate Eye on 10 October 2015.[143][144] It premiered on Arte in France and ZDF in Germany on 6 November. The film was acquired by Netflix in October 2015 and is also available on iTunes.[145]

In European press he has for example been called an "infidel" with a French publication saying "A SINNER IN MECCA, LE PÈLERINAGE D'UN «INFIDÈLE"[146][147] Talking about the death threats, L'Express said, "Le documentaire "A Sinner in Mecca", que l'on peut traduire par "Un pécheur à la Mecque" et qui doit sortir dans les salles américaines le 4 septembre, offre une plongée très subjective dans le cinquième pilier de l'islam, qui a valu à son réalisateur et personnage principal des menaces de mort et une violente campagne sur internet." [147]

[The documentary "[null A Sinner in Mecca]," to be released in American cinemas [null on 4 September], offers a very subjective dive into the fifth pillar of Islam, which earned its director and main character death threats and a campaign of violence on the internet.]

VICE in Germany said "Als Homosexueller hat Parvez Sharma die Todesstrafe riskiert, um eine Pilgerfahrt in die heilige Stadt zu unternehmen." adding that the film included topics like "den Islam, Mohammed-Karikaturen und das Filmemachen mit iPhones zu unterhalten."[148]

[As a homosexual, Parvez Sharma risked punishment by death by undertaking a pilgrimage in the holy city...]

A Sinner in Mecca opened theatrically at New York's Cinema Village theater (on 4 September 2015),[149][150] Los Angeles' Laemmle Music Hall,[151][152] Detroit's Cinema Detroit[153][154] and San Diego's Digital Gym Cinema.[155] These runs were short compared to A Jihad for Love's theatrical run. Variety magazine said the following about A Sinner in Mecca's theatrical run "A tiny Stateside release on Sept. 4 went virtually unnoticed, though TV sales should be more lucrative."[156]

A Jihad for Love was widely written about with The New York Times,[63] The Washington Post,[73] the Los Angeles Times,[127] The Wall Street Journal,[67] the Houston Chronicle,[157] The Guardian,[24] the Independent, Der Spiegel,[158] Stern, Newsweek, The Globe and Mail,[159] The Toronto Star,[160] Variety,[161] Hollywood Reporter,[162] Screen International,[163] BBC, CNN, PBS, SBS, ZDF, CBC, National Public Radio, al-Arabiya and hundreds of other media outlets, writing about and profiling Sharma's work. He has been interviewed on more than 200 radio stations worldwide.[164][49]

A Sinner in Mecca was available on Netflix from 2015-2017. It was theatrically distributed in 2015 in cities including New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. It was the opening film for the "Passionate Eye" series on CBC in Canada in 2015. It was broadcast in 12 countries including France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and more.

Even though both his films were banned in Singapore[165] and parts of the Middle East and led to theological condemnation in many countries, Sharma is a leading spokesperson on defending Islam yet being able to speak for urgent reform, as a Muslim. He has conducted more than 200 live events[166][167][168][169] across the world, talking about Islam and, in part, its relation to topics ranging from ISIS to homosexuality. As an example, calling the filmmaker "bold" Paper magazine said the film dealt with topics ranging from "Saudi Arabia's secret influence on ISIS and what it means to have a Starbucks in the middle of Mecca."[170]

On the Film industry standard website of calculating a films critical reception, box office, appeal, streaming and other factors called Rotten Tomatoes,[171][172] A Jihad for Love has a score of 78%[19] and A Sinner in Mecca has a score of 85%.[173] On Metacritic, A Jihad for Love has a lower score of 55%[20] On Metacritic, A Sinner in Mecca has a score of 68% with the website saying "generally favorable reviews".[174]

A Sinner in Mecca has been reviewed widely across the word. In San Diego KPBS did a mixed review saying "Laid out like some of the best personal documentaries of the 1990s, Sharma incorporates gorgeous shots, lovely animation and sometimes overly self-indulgent scenes and melodramatic voice-overs."[86] The Hollywood Reporter called it "Wrenching… gritty… surreal and transcendent; Visceral and Abstract… a true act of courage and hope."[175] The Guardian wrote, "With poetic simplicity… a delicately personal story and a call to action."[176] OUT Magazine described it as "Brave... An unprecedented exploration of Islam."[177] Indiewire wrote, "Powerful, Illuminating … a remarkable examination of contemporary Islam."[178] NOW Toronto said, "Spectacular… Emotional core stands out".[179] BBC Persian called it "Shocking and Courageous".[180] Screen Daily referred to the film as ""Unprecedented… Surreal."[181] The Toronto Star called it "A deeply personal film about faith and forgiveness."[182] Scroll.in said, "Deeply personal … High Drama … A protest against Saudi Arabia".[183] J.B. Spins wrote, "Nonfiction-filmmaking does not get much gutsier than Sharma video-documenting his hajj... Bold and stingingly truthful, A Sinner in Mecca is very highly recommended."[184] Anne Thompson in Thompson on Hollywood wrote, "The film combines the political, the personal and the spiritual in a remarkable way".

Controversies

As early as 2 November 2004, a New York Times interview explained, "threats to the director have become routine. "About every two weeks I get an e-mail that berates me, condemns me to hell and, if they are nice, asks me to still seek forgiveness while there is still time."[185] He was provided a personal security detail at the TIFF 2007 premiere of A Jihad for Love in 2007 and A Sinner in Mecca 2015 premiere at Hotdocs in Toronto.[186] The death threats and hate mail continued over the years. In 2015, The Toronto Star said " Security is being added for the world premiere 29 April of A Sinner in Mecca ".[187] On September 4, 2014, the day the film was released theatrically in the US, the New York Times said "After "Jihad," Mr. Sharma was labeled an infidel, and in the intervening years, he has gotten more death threats than he cares to recall.[185]

The death threats and hate mail were widely discussed in the mainstream media. Russia Today said, "Filmmaker receives death threats after documenting gay Muslim pilgrimage".[188] The Guardian said, "Parvez Sharma's film A Sinner in Mecca, in which he tries to reconcile his sexuality and his religion, resulted in hate mail and threats."[189] The Washington Post said that it was an "enormous amount of hate mail and death threats".[190] VICE said the threats were a "barrage" adding that, "Sharma is no stranger to controversial filmmaking".[191]

Calling the film a "dull documentary" the Wrap said it was "a dangerous trek".[192] Sharma said to Indiewire that "It's very hard to carry the burden of hate mail and threats directly".[193] The Daily Mail said, "filmmaker receives a torrent of abuse and hate after he secretly records his pilgrimage to Mecca".[194] Egypt's national Al Ahram newspaper said Sharma "risked death" in making the film adding, "Sharma said he was fortunate to be allowed into the conservative Islamic kingdom, despite his sexuality and a film career in which he has challenged conservative Islam."[195] Yahoo! News said the film was, "a documentary that has attracted death threats and an online hate campaign" adding that Sharma "conducted more than 50 interviews (in Mecca)" and the film included, "The confession of a Pakistani murderer. Overzealous religious police. An Arab angered after his pregnant wife was molested in the holiest site known to Islam."[196]

Singapore was amongst the first nations to ban the two films from being screened or being streamed online on services like Netflix.[197] Chairperson of the board of Film Censors Amy Chua as saying that the film was "disallowed in view of the sensitive nature of the subject".[198] A Sinner in Mecca was "was given a "Not Allowed for all Ratings" classification."[199][200]

GCN wrote, "Sharma is no stranger to death threats; 'A Jihad for Love', his documentary about the lives of gay and lesbian Muslims, generated much controversy upon its release in 2007. Days after the film's April premier, Sharma says Iranian government propaganda websites accused him of promoting a "disgusting act of homosexuality," adding that the film was an 'insult to Islam.'"[201] Pink News reported Sharma saying, "The very Muslims I'm seeking acceptance from are attacking me because I'm a gay man and because I made this film. As a Muslim, you are taught from a very young age that you do not mess with Mecca, and I'm doing exactly that."[202] WNYC has a piece titled, "A Gay Muslim Filmmaker Faces his Fatwa."[203] OUT said, "Parvez Sharma ... grew up gay in a conservative city in India, but he seems impervious to vitriol, which helps, considering that his latest documentary, A Sinner in Mecca — a story of his personal journey on the hajj — has resulted in death threats since it began screening.[204][205]

The hate continues to be reported worldwide.[206][207][208][209][210][205][211][212][213][214][210][215][216]

A Sinner in Mecca, A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance (Book) and Islam Trilogy

In 15 August 2017, Parvez Sharma released his first book "A Sinner in Mecca, A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance (book)" by publisher BenBella Books.[217][218]

Sharma started writing professionally at an early age. Between the years of 1994 and 1996, he started writing as an undergraduate at Presidency College, Calcutta in India, for the newspapers The Telegraph, The Statesman and The Business Standard) He contributed to US publications like Trikone.[219]

He has written about India, Islam and U.S. Politics on the Pulitzer Prize winning news aggregator called Huffington Post,[220] The Guardian,[221] The Daily Beast[222] and CNN-IBN (now known as News18).[223]

His work is quoted, discussed, interviewed in academic and non-fiction books. In Robin Wright's "Rock the Casbah" she begins a chapter called, The Counter Jihad with a quote from interview with him where Sharma says, "Clearly 9/11 was a turning point for Americans. But it was even more so for Muslims."[224]

The book, A Sinner in Mecca: A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance was released by publisher BenBella Books.[225][226] They declared it one of their front-list titles.[227] The publisher claims 14 NYT bestsellers on its list.[228]

The author recorded an audiobook version of this book for Tantor Media on 14 December 2017.[229][230]

The book has mixed reviews in the media.

The Guardian newspaper says, " Written by a man with a deep knowledge of Islamic historic; with courage and fierce emotion." It adds, "Parvez Sharma is a proud gay Muslim whose first film, A Jihad For Love, was the first ever made about Islam and homosexuality. It made him the subject of death threats throughout the Arab world."[231]

LGBT website Towleroad said, "This Gay Muslim Risked His Life to Reveal a Side of Islam Most Have Never Seen" and added in its review that the book "(Helps us) gain perspective on extremists and religion, but as a glass to view the world here in the United States, the challenges felt by the Muslim community, and the oppressive weight of the Trump administration"[232][233]

# 1 NY Times bestselling author of Zealot and CNN host, Reza Aslan said "Parvez's heroism is rare and his courage well-documented…he takes us on a surprising and compelling journey through the frontlines of his much contested faith. A brilliant follow up to his films…" [234]

Kevin Sessums, New York Times bestselling author of Mississippi Sissy and I Left It On the Mountain "Parvez Sharma's Hajj pilgrimage is not only a journey to Mecca but to his deepest self. Both a Muslim and an out gay man, Sharma writes bravely and brilliantly. His religion is ancient. His story is timeless."[235][236][11]

Asra Q. Nomani, Muslim women-rights activist and bestselling author of Standing Alone in Mecca says in an editorial review "… With his powerful, brave book, A Sinner in Mecca, Parvez Sharma takes us on his hero's pilgrimage, teaching us of an ethereal truth: the qibla, or direction of Mecca, resides within each one of our hearts…"[236][11][237]

Cleve Jones, Author, Harvey Milk contemporary and the man who conceptualized the historic NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt said in an editorial review "…In a divided world, Sharma fearlessly crosses the boundaries and barriers that separate us from each other and finds common ground in the search for love and truth."[236][238][239][240]

The Washington Book Review said "You will never think the same way about Saudi Arabia and Islam after reading this beautifully written book."[11]

Foreword Reviews said "Sharma's spiritual search is intimate and careful, and ultimately one of understanding."[241]

Publishers Weekly said "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." [242]

The book had a four and a half star out of 5 score on customer reviews in Amazon in January 2018.

A User MGallaway gave it five stars and said, "Like its author, this book resists easy labels and classification. Combining elements of family memoir, political analysis, history, exegesis, cloak-and-dagger meetings, and gay hookups, "A Sinner in Mecca" exposes religious intolerance—and its economic and colonial underpinnings—and celebrates the beauty of faith in its most intimate, personal form. An antidote to 'soundbite journalism,' this book should be read by anyone who wants to better understand the miraculous complexity of the world."[11]

A user called Roroblu'sMum gave it 3 stars and says " Having not seen the film, and not knowing much about the author, other than what I googled, I expected a lot from this tale. I'm from an Asian background myself and involved with things LGBT, but, I had to take this with more than a pinch of salt."[243]

Extracts of the book are available on Google Books.[237]

In the book Sharma sharply veers away from the subject of the film of the same name and instead focuses on Wahhabi Islam, Daesh, Saudi Arabia, the Indian sub-continent and more.[237]

Sharma has called the book as the final product of his "Islam Trilogy"[244] in various interviews. In one titled "A Jihad for Love and Equality: A Chat with trailblazer, Parvez Sharma"[245] he explains this as,"The Islam Trilogy is my contribution to history which actually began three months after September 11, 2001, when I started filming, A Jihad for Love, the world's first film on Islam and homosexuality. In 2011, just months after I reported the Arab Spring extensively and bin Laden's death I decided to go on Hajj. This would be my Hajj of defiance—and if found out I faced certain beheading. But as a filmmaker I knew this would be the greatest journey of my life and there was no way I would not film it. It was historic, you are not permitted to film in Mecca according to Wahhabi theology (even though short YouTube videos proliferate) but I did. Many shut their doors on me. Many foundations who had embraced Jihad were too afraid of this. In any case a three-year struggle ensued and we had another world first— A Sinner in Mecca, a film in Mecca and Medina shot entirely on an iPhone. Then I began writing the book that would say everything the film was not able to. That became A Sinner in Mecca: A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance. Thus the trilogy which represents almost two decades of hard earned work ends as I had always planned it."

The book like the film has a trailer approaching three hundred thousand views.[246]

The book has been extracted on other platforms.

The Daily Beast extract, titled "I Survived the Hajj—Islam's Mashup of Boot Camp and Mosh Pit: Every Muslim[247] is supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but Parvez Sharma discovered the hard way that this dirty, noisy, and nearly lethal trek was more hell than heaven." This is a quote from the book extract, "Both she and I knew that the bin Laden family, one of the largest construction conglomerates, had been charged to modernize (aka destroy Islamic history) Mecca and Medina. Osama bin Laden, one of the sons, was for a while in charge of this in Mecca. He like the 15 (of 19) hijackers of 9/11 had definitely performed Hajj. Perhaps more than once and perhaps these toilets were a bin Laden novelty of modernization. This family was the closest to the despicable, ruling Al-Saud monarchy. They always got all the contracts."

A Huffington Post book-extract titled " #WAR" in part says, "Fear is the strongest of emotions. And the strongest kind of fear can be manufactured by those who know that fear; real fear is that of the other. A man called Stephen Bannon knew it so well it was as if branded with a hot iron, or worse into his skull. Daenerys Targaryen, in Game of Thrones knows it well. So do all the pretenders to the Iron Throne in the HBO goldmine. It's a winning formula unlike any other. Tits, dragons, and BOOM! Fear of the other is what gave a monstrous contractor and reality TV star the real-life version of the Iron Throne—the presidency of the United States last year."[248]

One extract on NewNowNext titled "Parvez Sharma's "A Sinner In Mecca" Tells Of One Man's Hajj—With Potentially Deadly Consequences" details a major life-decision, one of many that Sharma undertook before leaving for Saudi Arabia, "Friends said my circumcision proved I was "crazy" and they would never take such an irreversible, life-altering decision. I had no choice."

Sharma is doing a book tour with this "Islam Trilogy" in 2017 and 2018. One such event lead to the Times Union published out of Albany to publish a book extract as well, titled "In Mecca with eye, iPhone"[249][250]

Out of almost two million books on Amazon the book ranks the following way in January, 2018:[251]

#565 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Radicalism (there are 40,000 books in this category)

#1163 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > LGBT (there are 150,000 books in this category)

#5620 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious (there are 75,000 thousand books in this category)

The book has also been released as an audio-book in the author's voice by Tantor Media.[252]

On Tantor Media, where the book has been given four and a half stars out of five a reviewer says, "Given the perception that the Middle East is largely hostile to the LGBTQ community, Parvez Sharma's spiritual memoir A Sinner in Mecca is shocking in its clarity and candor."[253]

In 2018, Parvez Sharma's book, A Sinner In Mecca: A Gay Muslim's Hajj of Defiance was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Gay Memoir/Biography[254] and for a Foreward 2017 Indies Award.[255]

Early career

Parvez Sharma worked as television journalist in India and the United Kingdom, including for India's 24-hour news television network NDTV. A journalist, Sharma has worked in radio,[256] print, and broadcast. Sharma worked as a producer at Democracy Now! in New York in 2003.[257][258] He has taught as an adjunct professor at American University, developing and teaching that university's first curriculum on Bollywood and other Indian cinemas.

His piece "Emerging from the Shadows" for The Statesman in India was the country's first major newspaper article to discuss the life of Indian lesbians.[120]

He was involved in the organization of the first organized LGBT effort in the state of West Bengal and has spoken internationally on LGBT issues, Human rights violations across the world and the crisis in 21st century Islam.

Inspirational and Activist Speaker

Sharma has been a featured speaker at more than 40 college campuses in the U.S., which include Stanford,[259] Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Harvard (1 April 2016 and 17 October 2016),[260] Syracuse, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. He toured several US Southern States in 2009 and called it his "Bible Belt Tour" speaking directly to issues around LGBT rights (or the lack thereof) within conservative Christian communities.[261]

In 2009 Sharma was invited as a keynote speaker to the United Nations at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy[262] during Durban Review Conference.[263][264] The same year he also addressed one of the world's largest gatherings of LGBT activists at the Gay Games in Copenhagen.[265] He was invited by the Foreign Services Institute of the US Department of State as a keynote speaker in Washington, D.C. on 21 June 2012. The event was called "The Rights of LGBT Persons in the Middle East and South and Central Asia." On 20 December 2012, he conducted a day-long workshop with officials from the USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security.

Early life

Sharma was born on 8 July 1975 in New Delhi and grew up in various cities all over India. During his high school years he grew up just twenty minutes away from the Deoband Islamic seminary that gave birth to the Taliban, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.[222] His High School was a Catholic School called St Mary's Academy where all students had to recite the Pater Noster during morning assembly. He studied English Literature at Presidency College of the University of Calcutta. He received his master's degrees in Mass Communication (Film and Television) from Jamia Millia Islamia University, Broadcast Journalism from the University of Wales, Cardiff, and Video from American University's School of Communication. He moved to the United States in 2000 as a student at Columbia University's Film School, but was unable to continue a second semester due to lack of funds and moved to American University where he was given scholarships.[266]

International Muslim Dialogue Project

The film producer Sandi DuBowski and Director/ Producer Parvez Sharma launched the International Muslim Dialogue Project in 2008.[3][4][267][268]

Part of the aim for the project was to organize screenings of the film in Muslim Capitals. Sharma called it the "Underground Network Model" of film distribution. He invented this model sending unmarked DVD's of the film with friends and colleagues to Muslim capitals across the world with full permission to sell pirated copies.[269]

Some of the boldest were Beirut, Cairo, Karachi, eight cities in Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur.[270][5][271][272][273]

In a feature titled, "How Parvez Sharma made a Jihad for Love" the U.S. based New York magazine said on 18 May 2008 "As such, Sharma says his ideal audience is faithful Muslims—and not just 'gay white men or activists.' To reach them, he's 'smuggled tapes into Iran and Pakistan,' leafleted mosques, blanketed MySpace, and 'hosted a screening at a home in Astoria for fifteen key progressive Muslim leaders.' There's more to do: 'Over the last six years, some of the most amazing conversations I've had about this film have been with taxi drivers, but I'm stumped about how to reach them again.'"[274]

In 2015 he launched a global Muslim empowerment endeavor called Project 786.[275] The project's website says "Project 786 is a worldwide Outreach, Dialogue and Measurable Change Project aimed at significantly impacting and changing contemporary discourse about Islam, today the worlds fastest growing and most contested religion."[276]

See also

References

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  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/parvez-sharma/there-are-no-direct-fligh_b_189916.html

External links

  • Official Website
  • Official Website for A Jihad for Love
  • Official Website for A Sinner in Mecca

External links

  • "A Jihad for Love" on Rotten Tomatoes
  • sinner in mecca "A Sinner in Mecca" on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Director of Film on Muslim Homosexuals Frets over His Subjects' Safety
  • A Jihad for Love
  • Parvez bio
  • Film of Muslim gays stirs up sentiments
  • Queer and Present Danger (mp3), with Kathleen Mullen, Gretchen Hildebran, Malcolm Ingram and Parvez Sharma
  • Parvez Sharma Interview on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos
  • A Jihad for Love on IMDb
  • An open letter from Parvez
  • The Cinereach Project At Sundance Institute
  • A Jihad for Love Press Kit
  • A Jihad for Love on Hartley Film Foundation
  • Leap of faith - Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love gives voice to gay Muslims
  • A JIHAD FOR LOVE - PANEL DISCUSSION
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