I never know what to say when people ask if I was a pop star in Malaysia.

The Shahnameh consists of some fifty thousand couplets usually divided into three sections – the mythical, heroic, and historical. It narrates the global story of a people – referred to by its author Ferdowsi as Iranians – from the creation of the world to the Arab conquest of the Sassanian Empire in the 650s.

The Muqaddimah dazzled me, a sociologist of religion and an ethnographer, when I first read it not too long ago.

 Why was I so self-conscious? Was it because I was surrounded by perfectly preened, young, mostly Muslim women, taking selfies and chattering away? ‘I’m not some creepy, non-colour coordinated lech,’ I wanted to protest aloud, ‘I’m here for research.’

How much do the multitude of Muslims and non-Muslims hate the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? Let us count the ways.

On a trip to London I was treated to ‘a typically British meal’ – chicken tikka masala. Later, I learnt that the origins of this dish are contested – did it originate in Punjab or was it ‘invented’ in Glasgow? I also learnt that up to ninety per cent of Indian eateries in the UK were actually run by Bangladeshis.

In July 2014, at the height of the Gaza War, the Palestinian singer-composer Reem Kelani performed to a packed house at Rich Mix in East London. She confessed that she had felt like cancelling the concert as Israel’s military offensive intensified and the Gazan death toll escalated.

You know the story. Prince Hamlet grieves the untimely and mysterious death of his father and resents Claudius, his uncle, for marrying his mother and taking over the kingdom of Denmark with dictatorial glee. But then one day, Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father who names Claudius as his killer and demands vengeance.

In English, the word ‘sex’ can refer to biology – the kinds of reproductive organs a living organism has. It can also refer to a particular human act or family of acts that can be reproductive or recreational or both.

I have always been slightly envious of people with a madrasa education. In Malaysia in the 1980s, I understood attending madrasa as spending a few hours after school every day in the local mosque with the other kids and learning Qur’anic recitation.