With a release timed to coincide with Muharram, the Islamic new year, on 11 September, this very reverent documentary proffers an access-all-areas look at the Haram, the Great Mosque of Mecca (or Makkah), built to house Islam’s most holy shrine, the Kaaba. Only Muslims are permitted to enter Mecca, and this look inside the mosque offers an exceptionally rare glimpse into what goes on there, how it is run, what the daily routines are like and so on. It also provides a useful teaching tool for younger Muslim viewers and recent converts to the faith.
Marshalling pin-sharp footage shot from on high, and sequences shot among worshippers participating in the rituals of hajj or pilgrimage, often in mesmerising slow motion, director Abrar Hussain takes pains to balance the big picture with plenty of minute and fascinating detail. The Kaaba, the big black cube at the centre of the Haram, is a major focal point – what it represents, how it’s maintained, which prayers are said there, and when. But the excursions to the outer spokes of the Haram, the factories and offices that all service it, the minarets from which calls to prayer are projected, are just as fascinating to explore. Textile fans will be entranced by footage at a factory that makes the black coverings that are embroidered with Qur’anic scripture in special gold thread and wire.
A trip to the mosque’s social media office offers an insight into how modern technology is used to service ancient traditions, and that tension between old and new is woven throughout the movie, which is in itself an artifact representative of that duality. Even hardened atheists might find themselves impressed by the sheer scale of operation here and the passion of the faithful, filmed with respect for their diversity and infinite variety.