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

Filmmaker Abrar Hussain films in the Mataf area of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in October 2017. (Photo courtesy: Red Face Films)
Filmmaker Abrar Hussain films in the Mataf area of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in October 2017. (Photo courtesy: Red Face Films)
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Updated 26 February 2022

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

Filmmaker Abrar Hussain films in the Mataf area of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in October 2017. (Photo courtesy: Red Face Films)
  • In 2017, Abrar Hussain released his best-known work, ‘One Day in the Haram,’ a glimpse into Islam’s most revered site
  • His new film, ‘One Night in Al-Aqsa,’ tells the story of the mosque’s compound during the Islamic calendar’s holiest night Laylat Al-Qadr

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

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

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

“Post 9/11, there was lot of media backlash against Muslims, especially in the UK and in Western countries, and I knew this is not the true portrayal of Islam,” Hussain told Arab News in an interview.




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

“I really felt that I needed to use my creative skills to do something to combat this. So, I started doing Islamic productions and I had very big success.”

Hussain’s new film, “One Night in 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 when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

“Our film is all about promoting 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,' in London, UK, on Nov. 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 the faithful.”

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

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

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

“It is one of the most important places (in Islam) and a sense of pride for Muslims,” he said, adding that the aim of the film 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 for 'One Night in Al-Aqsa' in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Red Face Films)

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

“Through these funds, they will support other projects like this one, and provide health care, food, and other vital aid to the Palestinian people, mostly in Gaza,” Hussain said.

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

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

“One Night in Al-Aqsa” had already been screened in 12 countries, boasting “big success” in Britain, the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia. It was also shown in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey.

“The Muslim audience has appreciated that someone went through all the troubles to make this film,” Hussain said.

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

“Another big project on which we are working nowadays is ‘A Day in Madinah’,” he said, adding that it will feature the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, the second-holiest city in Islam.


Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
Updated 6 sec ago

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The crimes in connection with which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision as judges deliberated on Italy’s extradition request following the activists’ arrests and police questioning a year ago.
The Paris Court of Appeal said in a statement it rejected Italy’s extradition request for each member of the group of 10 men and women, but didn’t explain its reasoning.
Wednesday’s ruling can still be appealed at France’s highest court.
Italy’s justice ministry said in a statement it respected the French judicial process as they await to hear the assessments of the ruling by the Paris attorney general, who is the only one authorized to appeal the court’s decision to deny the extradition of each of the 10 convicted militants.
“I am waiting to know the reasons behind the ruling that denies all extraditions without distinction,” said Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“This is a long-awaited ruling for the victims and the entire country, which concerns a dramatic and still painful page in our history,” Cartabia said.
The French presidency said it will not comment on the court’s ruling.
The unwillingness of French authorities to detain convicted Italian former left-wing militants living in France has long been a thorny issue between Paris and Rome.
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted former militants believed to be in France over the years.
Italy’s far-left Red Brigades group killed about 50 people in a terror campaign in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
Updated 14 min ago

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
  • The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth and bold tax cuts
  • Otokita was elected to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo

TOKYO: Shun Otokita, member of the House of Councilors, believes that relations with the Middle East is important for Japan.
Otokita is the chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).
The ritzy Ginza district in Tokyo was part of his campaign trail where he gave his support to candidates, Kiyoshi Nakajo and Yuki Ebisawa, and appealed to passers-by saying, “We will stamp down the liar LDP.”
The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth, bold tax cuts and economic stimulus measures, as well as the elimination of the 1 percent GDP limit for Japan’s defense budget. The party sees a need for greater defense spending and military capabilities.
Otokita, 38, was elected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2013 and to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense and sees the Middle East as an important ally.
“Our relationship with Middle Eastern countries will become increasingly important due to soaring energy prices,” Otokita said. “I will do my best to continue building Japan’s diplomatic relations with them as well as with Asia and Europe.”
 


Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
Updated 45 min 42 sec ago

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”


British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”


Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
Updated 29 June 2022

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena
  • He spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates' Court

LONDON: A man was remanded in custody Wednesday after appearing in a London court charged with the murder and attempted rape of a woman who had been walking home alone in east London.
It was the latest in a string of similar incidents that have heightened concern over the safety of women and girls on the British capital’s streets.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, who was attacked after a night out in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday.
McSweeney, who is also charged with attempted rape and robbery, spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement, Aleena’s family mourned her death and called for an end to violence against women. They highlighted the killings of other women who were targeted by strangers in London and elsewhere.
The family expressed sympathy to the families of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and others who were killed in recent months and whose deaths prompted widespread protests calling for more protection for women and girls.
The family said Aleena, a law graduate who was training to become a lawyer, “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home.”
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, 10 minutes from home,” their statement said.
Police said Aleena suffered serious head injuries, confirmed in a post-mortem examination.
McSweeney was denied bail and remanded in custody until he is due to appear at London’s Central Criminal Court on Jul. 27.
A march remembering Aleena is planned in Ilford on Saturday.