Journey to Mecca: Ibn Muzaffar and Hamza
Distinguished actor Nadim Sawalha (Syriana, Captain Abu Raed-Jordan's entry for the 2009 Oscar race) added gravitas by joining the cast to play Ibn Muzaffar, a small but pivotal role.
Sawalha has personal and professional connections with the story of Ibn Battuta, whom he knew about since childhood. When he was in his 20's in London, he was asked by a Sudanese writer to do an hour on Ibn Battuta. More recently, he was the narrator voice of Ibn Battuta in Travels with a Tangerine, the BBC4 television production which traced Battuta's travels all over the world.
Sawalha was happy to be in Journey to Mecca, because it threw a different light on Ibn Battuta from previous portrayals that he had seen. "I think it is a very wise idea to do this film in relation to modern Islam and the Hajj because all of that is a mystery to an international audience. I think the Muslim audiences will love it, and the Christians and other religions will be very curious about seeing it."
Nabil Elouahabi, fresh from HBO's The Path to 9/11 and best-known from UK's EastEnders, was hired to play Hamza, Battuta's best friend. Elouahabi explains that The Hajj is very much part of his life, even though he was born in London. He has fulfilled his duties as the eldest son by paying for both his Tangier-born parents to go the Hajj. "It is something I wanted to honor," says the actor whose grandfather was an Imam in a village outside Tangier who performed the Hajj four times.