MeccaParvez 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. Nevertheless, the power of his faith and his curiosity as a journalist propelled him to take the Hajj pilgrimage of to Saudi Arabia – a journey that also became a film – even though he knew if he was identified at the border his punishment would almost certainly be a beheading. “Immense faith had brought me here,” he writes. “I was obeying my highest calling as a Muslim.” Somehow, the name on his Indian passport did not set off any alarm bells. The result is the first book about the Hajj from a gay perspective, written by a man with a deep knowledge of Islamic history. This pilgrimage is the centerpiece of his book, and he recounts it with courage and fierce emotion. Part of Sharma’s compulsion to find his spiritual salvation at Mecca was a need to prove to himself that despite his sexual orientation, he was still holy enough to be worthy of this journey. It was far from a casual decision. As a child, a medical issue prevented him from having the required circumcision. To reduce one major risk during his pilgrimage, when he would be forced to wear an ihram, two seamless pieces of white cloth with no underwear, he had to have the operation as an adult.

He writes: “In my nightmares, my ihram would fall off in Mecca, subjecting unsuspecting pilgrims to my un-Muslim penis.” His grandfather had told him how after the partition of India and Pakistan, his two best friends were stripped and identified as Muslim by their genitals. They were then hacked to death. Sharma’s struggle to reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation leads him on a search for the essential humanity of the prophet Muhammad. “Scholars learn to question faith,” he writes, “while believers just accept it. My adult self seemed to possess both abilities.” He argues convincingly that the version of Islam promoted by Isis comes directly from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi doctrine and that both represent a terrible corruption of the original intent of his religion. He also believes that without Wahhabi indoctrination, there could not have been a 9/11 – because it had been taught to 15 of the hijackers.

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