Masjid al haram, or the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is the holiest site in the Muslim world. “In Arabic, Harām means sinful or forbidden, but with a slight inflection in pronunciation it also means sanctuary and sacred,” says filmmaker and creative director Kazim Rashid. “It is this contradictory symbiosis of good and evil, devotion for the divine and the exploitation of hope that my film attempts to explore.”
Exit to Al-Haram started life as a personal project that was meant to capture Rashid’s 89-year-old grandmother’s final trip to Mecca—her dying wish. The turbulent political situation in Saudi Arabia meant her passport failed to arrive in time so his family had to travel without her. “My grandmother’s preparations in the weeks before the trip was like a deep spiritual cleanse,” says Rashid. “Then in a matter of moments it was all for nothing. Years of devotion were seemingly smashed to pieces.”
Rashid’s home movie takes the audience to the very heart of Islam and splits the film into diptych form, with each frame awash with subtly contrasting scenes of men who bow in solemnity while others record worship on their mobile phones. Close-ups of the holy Kaaba, which towers dozens of feet above the crowds, is quickly dwarfed by wide shots of the high-rise luxury hotels that cast a shadow over the the Muslim world’s cornerstone of faith.
Rashid describes Saudi Arabia as a perpetrator of one of the worst geopolitical wars in years through its “total disregard for civilian life—locally, regionally and internationally.” Unable to harmonise how a humble and peaceful religion can coexist in a country that inflicts violence on its neighbors he asks, “If the root of religion is love, why is the root of so much evil, religion?”