The British-Pakistani filmmakers’ documentaries offer viewers a rare glimpse into Islam’s holiest sites

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ISLAMABAD: An acclaimed British-Pakistani filmmaker, Abrar Hussain, who has produced documentaries on the Grand Mosque of Mecca and Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that his films aim to counter anti-Islamic narratives by offering rare glimpses of the culture of religion provide heritage.

Born in Islamabad, Hussain moved to London with his family in the late 1970s, less than a year after his birth. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, he worked as a series producer at Islam Channel, directing and producing the popular recurring TV shows Model Mosque (2007) and Faith Off (2008).

In 2017, Hussain published his most famous work, One Day in the Haram. Since only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, the film offered a glimpse into the Grand Mosque in Mecca – and showed how the world’s largest mosque is operated and what day-to-day operations are like.

“After 9/11 there was a lot of media reaction against Muslims, especially in Britain and in Western countries, and I knew that this is not the true portrayal of Islam,” Hussain said in an interview with Arab News.

Filmmaker Abrar Hussain takes aerial photos of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in October 2017. (Photo courtesy of Red Face Films)

“I really felt like I had to use my creative abilities to do something about it. So I started doing Islamic productions and I had great success.”

Hussain’s new film One Night in Al-Aqsa premiered in London earlier this month. It shows the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Laylat Al-Qadr, a festival commemorating the night the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

“Our film is about promoting a better and more tolerant understanding of Islam,” said Hussain.


Filmmaker Abrar Hussain wins the Media Award at the Hajj Awards for One Day in the Haram on November 4, 2019 in London, UK. (Photo courtesy of Red Face Films)

In a review, the Guardian newspaper wrote that the film “weaves awe-inspiring aerial footage of Al-Aqsa with intimate shots of the faithful.”

“Many of them are West Bank Palestinians who survive numerous Israeli security checks, adding excruciatingly long hours to their journey. Indeed, the omnipresence of the Israeli occupation dwarfs the convivial and moving scenes of believers praying or breaking bread at the end of their fast,” the Guardian said.

“This documentary is a valuable window into the struggles that Palestinians must go to simply to celebrate their faith.”

For Hussain, the documentary, shot in about 18 months on a budget of £200,000 (US$268,000), was an “incredible and phenomenal experience in preserving cultural heritage and Islamic history”.

“It’s one of the most important places (in Islam) and a sense of pride for Muslims,” ​​he said, adding that the aim of the film is to encourage people to come to Al-Aqsa for worship and show solidarity show the Palestinian people.


British-Pakistani filmmaker Abrar Hussain films scenes for ‘One Night in Al-Aqsa’ on May 28, 2019 in Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Red Face Films)

Funds generated from the film were donated to Penny Appeal Palestine, the international humanitarian charity that also contributed to its production.

“Using these funds, they will support other projects like this and provide health care, food and other essential assistance to the Palestinian people, mainly in Gaza,” Hussain said.

He added that his documentaries have already been viewed by millions of people in cinemas, airline entertainment systems and video-on-demand platforms.

“‘One Day in the Haram’ stayed on Amazon Prime for two years and has now been ported to another platform in the US called USHUB, which streams the film in over 200 countries worldwide,” said the director.

“One Night in Al-Aqsa” has been shown in 12 countries and has had “great success” in the UK, US, Canada, South Africa and Australia. It was also shown in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey.

“Muslim audiences appreciated that someone put all the effort into making this film,” Hussain said.

The filmmaker returns to Saudi Arabia for his next project.

“Another major project we are currently working on is ‘One Day in Medina,'” he said, adding that it will involve the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city.

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