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Inside Mecca, Anisa Mehdi (2003)

This National Geographic television documentary has some of the most amazing and revealing footage of the Arab world I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to read that 2,000,000 people come to Mecca at the height of the Hajj season; it’s quite another to see the images and to follow the journeys of three particular pilgrims, one a caucasian American woman convert, one a black South African journalist, one a wealthy Malaysian businessman. I wish they’d also shadowed a more “traditional” pilgrim from the Middle East; much of the documentary’s narrative thrust comes from its relation of the difficulties its three subjects have as a result of being different from the majority. Still, the images themselves outstrip the somewhat deliberate narration, providing a concrete visualization of a phenomenon that I, as a non-Muslim, am literally forbidden from ever seeing for myself.

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