British Muslims have made some massive contribution to British society from Mo Salah to Nadiya Hussain who won ‘The Great British Bake Off’, and having made it to the office of Mayor of London and Home Secretary. Well now we have an unmatched international success to boast about: Abrar Hussain.
Abrar, who previously worked at the UK based Islam Channel, was given unrestricted access by Saudi Arabia to film a breathtaking documentary “One Day in the Haram”. The film focuses around Masjid Al-Haram and its inner workings giving the viewer some breathtaking unique shots. While there has been some Arabic documentaries on Masjid Al-Haram, this film is the first of its kind and opens up the majestic experience of seeing the Kaaba for the non-Muslim English-speaking world.
When I went on Hajj I found that when you land in Saudi Arabia the experience starts becoming real. After an arduous journey on the plane in the uncomfortable plain clothing of Ihram, the mountains of Makkah are the first thing you see as you approach the Kaaba. Your eyes yearn to see the Kaaba but all you get is glimpses of the clock tower. The film starts with shots reminiscent of this, with the mountains of Makkah with glimpses of Masjid Al-Haram in the distance. Just like the experience of Hajj and Umrah, your eyes long to see the Kaaba up close.
The views of Makkah and Masjid Al-Haram which Abrar has shot truly show a unique glimpse of Masjid Al-Haram from scenes filmed from a helicopter showing the Abraj Al-Bait “Clock Tower” to footage filmed from a drone of Masjid Al-Haram’s towering minarets. These views are instantly recognisable for any Muslim who has been there but at the same time we’re given a completely different point of view. While I had only recently been, the documentary gives views of Masjid Al-Haram which still take your breath away.
The documentary focuses on those things which no one ever has access to: the Imams walking into prayer, the Kiswa cloth being made, the journey of the holy water of Zam Zam and a glimpse at the life of the imams who educate people in Masjid Al-Haram. It leaves you with an immense respect for those who make the pilgrimage so effortless which enables us to focus on our personal worship.
When the Kaaba dawns on the screen it makes your heart skip a beat, of course nothing can capture the moment when you see the Kaaba in real life, but Abrar somehow taps into that feeling. While the protagonist is one of the Saudi workers, we also follow a Nigerian pilgrim as he makes the rites of Umrah. The crisp perfect close ups of the door of the Kaaba and the Kiswa cloth bring the Kaaba to life and really give an impression of the true feeling for those who have never seen the Kaaba in person.
What is interesting is that Abrar was behind a competition held on Islam Channel called “Model Mosque” in which various mosques across the UK entered a competition for the best mosque. The criteria wasn’t just how the mosque looked in appearance but came down to the services it provided and the benefit it gave to the local community. The Model Mosque competition became a buzz in the British Muslim community and Muslims were voting on different mosques. Muslims got as close as they would to a halal version of Eurovision. Abrar was asked after the screening of One Day in the Haram if he ever saw himself filming the holiest and most sacred mosque Masjid Al-Haram when he was filming Model Mosque, he said it wasn’t even in his wildest dream at the time.
With One Day in the Haram that buzz has come back to the Muslim community but in a different way. The Hajj is the greatest yearly pilgrimage in the world, yet the world know very little about it. People such as my non-Muslim work colleagues have absolutely no idea what goes on during Hajj. In the last two decades I can only think of one or two documentaries on mainstream TV about the Hajj. With One Day in the Haram, this may change that. Muslims can now show the pilgrimage to the non-Muslim world. Non-Muslims who would have wondered what goes on at the centre of any Muslim individuals life will be able to identify the place we face to pray 5 times a day and what forms the pinnacle of our life’s spiritual journey.
The Guardian reviewed One Day in the Haram and gave the documentary three out of five stars. I think the Guardian’s review doesn’t factor in the feeling which it fills a Muslim with, the longing we have in our hearts to see the Kaaba and the pride we feel that after so long, Masjid Al-Haram which sits at the heart of the Muslim world is getting the attention and quality it deserves. I suppose if I had to criticise the film, the only criticism I could find was I wanted to hear more from the workers of Masjid Al-Haram such as those from the subcontinent, but that really would be digging for criticism.
Abrar has been a pioneer and deserves the credit as such. There’s plenty of YouTube videos filmed in Masjid Al-Haram, something which I am guilty of doing myself. With Abrar’s achievement, One Day in the Haram gave the Kaaba the production quality it deserves. I feel that this may pave the way for the Saudis to open up more to documentaries and I feel it will inspire Muslims to create something else focusing on Masjid Al-Haram and pilgrimage. To this end, I would rate it no less than 4.5 out of 5 stars.