Parvez Sharma: an Icon of Resistance and a Journey of Perservance
Parvez Sharma is a New York-based filmmaker, journalist, and author, best known for his documentaries A Jihad for Love and Sinner in Mecca. He grew up in the city of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where his religious identity and sexual orientation were a minority. Sharma was bullied in school for being gay and spent hours cutting pictures from his mother’s Bollywood magazines. This sowed the seed of filmmaking in the mind of young Parvez. After earning a degree in English literature from Calcutta University, he moved across Delhi, Wales, and Washington to pursue master’s degrees in broadcast journalism, video, and mass communications. While working as a television reporter in New Delhi, the compelling nature of untold truths pushed Sharma to the world of documentary-making. In 2003, he moved to New York to produce the news program ‘Democracy Now!’. He also contributed to The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast on religious and political issues.
[Source: Google images]
A Jihad for Love, the world’s first film documenting gay and lesbian Muslims, won the 2009 GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) media award for best documentary. Parvez Sharma has constantly criticized religion for treating homosexuals as deviants and recognizes the need to reform Islam. Many gay and lesbian Muslims struggle to navigate their faith and sexual orientation together, which has been depicted in great detail in A Jihad for love, which has also gained him the label ‘infidel,’ including multiple death threats.
He traveled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage, where he recorded the documentary A sinner in Mecca: A Gay Muslim’s Hajj of Defiance, which was later published as a book in 2007. It was rather risky for an openly gay man to be in a place where homosexuality is punished with a death sentence. The documentary, recorded against the prohibition on shooting Hajj premises, shows an inside, lesser-known side of the nature of pilgrimage. The incident soon became controversial, and Sharma received death threats for portraying some religious practices as regressive and puritanical. Despite of the hatred directed towards him, Sharma stood his ground that the confrontation was only against the Saudi version of Islam.
Sharma has been an inspiration to the queer youth to reconcile with their faith and to question the homophobic practices in other patriarchal institutions. His journey is one of perseverance, determination, and a strong belief in oneself. In his words, “Lives have been and continue to be transformed. Questions continue to be asked. The answers are not always easy or available”.
A still from A sinner in Mecca [Source: RogerEbert.com]
- Sharma, P. (2010). Islam and homosexuality. Tikkun, 25(4), 40-42.