Journey to Mecca:Historical Advisors
The production emphasized the importance of having the support of leading world experts on Ibn Battuta, the Hajj and Mecca. Authenticity was the mantra during the shoot.
"We sought expert advice when we were writing the script and in the making of the film," says Barker. "Because the film is set in both the 14th century and today, historical and contemporary advice was essential. We were extremely fortunate to obtain the services of the leading scholars on Ibn Battuta and the Hajj in the world to be our advisors", says Taran Davies.
Our experts included history professor Ross Dunn, from the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies, San Diego State University, who has written one of the definitive books about Ibn Battuta and is the director of the "World History For Us All" project; Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who has written several books on Ibn Battuta as well as presented the recent BBC4 series, Travels with a Tangerine; and Dr. Abdelhadi Tazi, who is the leading Moroccan scholar on Ibn Battuta and the Hajj. The script was vetted by all of these people from a historical point of view. Michael Wolfe, an American convert to Islam, who was the first person to bring the Hajj to an American audience for Ted Koppel's Nightline in the 1980's, also lent his voice as well as other experts such as Prof. Winter of Cambridge University and Shk. Hamza Yusuf.
Dr. Tazi remarks that, "If there's an example of a personality who invites us to a dialogue between civilisations and the intermingling of religions, it's the personality of Ibn Battuta who travelled for thirty years and came back to us with a historical harvest. And every day proves to us that the information Ibn Battuta offered to us is worth writing and worth telling our younger generations so that they'll know that there was a person called Chems El Dine Ibn Battuta in whom are represented the best qualities of human creation and innovation."
"I feel it is my duty to be involved in this project," says Tazi, who is 88 and flew from Cairo to visit the set. "It is a vital project and I'm here to ensure accuracy. I'm convinced the film is accurate, but no matter how good a project is, there will always be complaints," he adds pragmatically.
Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait provided experts who advised on the presentation of Islam in the film. This process was overseen by Faisal Al-Muaammar, General Supervisor of the King Abdulaziz Public Library; and HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Dr. Yahya M. Ibn Junaid, Secretary General, The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Saudi Arabia.
The production also had numerous researchers working in Paris, New York, Damascus, Yemen, San Diego, Los Angeles, Mecca and at the London School for Asian and Oriental Studies (SOAS), as well as the leading expert in Saudi Arabia, Professor Nasser bin Ali Al-Harthy, Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, as well as Dr. Tazi and the local Imams, Dr. Nawaf Adulaziz Aljahmah, of the College of Islamic Studies, Engineering and Islamic Architecture in Kuwait, who did his PhD on Ibn Battuta, came on set to advise on the look of the different categories of people in the caravan and the Hajj rituals including prayer.
"Having over 15 experts on this film certainly helped us greatly" says Barker, "although at times they disagreed, which can be the case in many historical recreations. It meant that the producers and the team had to work even harder together to find consensus."
"It has been an absolute pleasure and learning experience for me and the team to work so closely with these world-renowned experts and scholars" says Dominic Cunningham- Reid.