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British-Pakistani filmmaker’s documentaries offer viewers rare glimpses of Islam’s holiest sites

ISLAMABAD: Acclaimed British-Pakistani filmmaker Abrar Hussain, who has produced documentaries on the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that his films aim to counter anti-Islamic narratives by offering rare insights into the cultural heritage of religion. heritage.

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

In 2017, Hussain published his best-known work, “One Day in the Haram”. As only Muslims are allowed to enter Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, the film offered a glimpse inside the Grand Mosque of Makkah, showing how the largest mosque in the world is run and what daily routines look like.

“After 9/11 there was a lot of media backlash against Muslims, especially in the UK and in Western countries, and I knew that was not the true portrayal of Islam,” he said. Hussain to Arab News in an interview.

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

“I really felt that I had to use my creative skills to do something to combat that. So, I started doing Islamic productions and I had great success.

Hussain’s new film, “A Night at Al-Aqsa”, premiered in London earlier this month. It shows Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Laylat Al-Qadr, a festival that commemorates the night the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

“Our film aims to promote a better and more tolerant understanding of Islam,” Hussain said.

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

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

“Many of them are Palestinians from the West Bank who endure numerous Israeli security checkpoints, adding excruciatingly long hours to their journey. Indeed, the pervasiveness of the Israeli occupation hovers over the convivial and moving scenes of worshipers praying or breaking bread at the end of their fast,” the Guardian said.

“This documentary is a valuable window into the effort Palestinians have to make just to celebrate their faith.”

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

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

British-Pakistani filmmaker Abrar Hussain films scenes from “A Night in Al-Aqsa” in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Photo credit: Red Face Films)

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

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

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

“‘One Day in the Haram’ stayed on Amazon Prime for two years and now it has moved to another platform in the United States called USHUB, which streams the film in over 200 countries around the world,” said said the director.

“A Night at Al-Aqsa” had already been screened in 12 countries, with “great success” in Britain, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. It was also broadcast in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey.

“Muslim audiences appreciated that someone went out of their way to make this movie,” Hussain said.

For his next project, the filmmaker will return to Saudi Arabia.

“Another great project we are working on today is ‘A Day in Medina,'” he said, adding that it will feature the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, the second holiest city in the world. ‘Islam.

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