This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
The trailer for Parvez Sharma’s new film, “A Sinner in Mecca,” with its pulsating music, tortured bodies, and scary news clips, depicts a sensationalism worthy of the most crass of Islamophobic films. The movie itself starts with a chat room conversation on a homosexual website with a Saudi who just witnessed an execution of a gay man. Next, Sharma performs a stylistic ablution dripping with blood, which seems far more melodramatic than dramatic. The rest of the film, however, calms down as his quiet, soft narration leads us through his performance (with emphasis on “performance”) of the Islamic pilgrimage, the Hajj. He seeks not to condemn Islam as much as he seeks to dig beneath the perceived politics, patriarchy and primitive behaviors to find it. It is a well-intentioned film that buries its affectionate heart in disjointed, unnecessary, forced banter.
Sharma distracts from what could have been a powerfully sentimental film by positioning his narrative in line with modern self-proclaimed Islamic reformers. Asra Nomani’s book “Standing Alone in Mecca” recounts her own pilgrimage, using the same narrative of the victimized sinning reformer who does not fit among the savage masses as well as she does among inclusive White culture. Here, Sharma shows the Muslims as nameless messy people crushing him during prayer, people from whom he fears for his life, while his White husband in the United States is a civilized concert pianist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, far more rabid in her hatred of Islam and Muslims, calls for a violent overhaul of Islam to make it as secular European as is possible. I would wish that if people were going to call for innovative reformations on Islam, that they would at least be innovative.
Such authors seem to resort to sweeping vilification of Saudi Arabia with the usual tropes: public executions and rigid religiosity coupled with capitalist extravagance. They claim—as do most hypocritical Fox News talking heads as well as bottom feeding liberals of the Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins variety—that the soul of Islam is the dark Wahhabi menace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
It is true that the KSA approach to Islam dominates the Arabian Peninsula and has oil-profit funded tentacles across the globe. But, Sharma runs into a serious contradiction when he asserts that the main mosque in Mecca, run by the same Saudis, is the only mosque in the world where women and men are equals, side by side. Apparently, despite all the rightly-criticized problems of Wahhabi Islam (executing gays, demolishing sacred sites to build shopping malls, prohibiting modern cultures), they somehow lead the world in progressive gender dynamics?