I’ll be the first to confess that I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Despite longstanding commitments to theoretical and methodological precepts which tell me I will surely go blind, or at the very least veer into dangerous forms of reductionism if I do it too often, I can’t stop thinking about sects.

It is one of those poetic wonders of cinema that often it’s the smaller canvases that do the best to explore life’s bigger questions – questions that force the audience to keep thinking well after the credits have finished rolling.

‘They have no religion’. This is the most common accusation labelled against the Alawis of Syria. Scorned by sectarian Sunnis and sometimes by orthodox Shi’a, the Alawis are seen as heretics.

A sect is an unsuccessful orthodoxy. Within a religious context that insists on authoritative interpretations of revelation, in whichever form revelation comes, a sect constitutes an alternative and incompatible reading of revelation against the orthodox ruling one.

‘You are a Shi’a?’ a security guard asked my husband in Karbala, Iraq. ‘I am a Muslim’, he replied. The guard seemed perplexed and did not engage in further conversation.

It is a wintery Sunday afternoon. I am sitting, along with a friend, in a semi-detached house in Southfields, suburban south-west London, the headquarters of the world-wide Ahmadiyya movement.

Darul Uloom Deoband and controversy have often gone hand in hand. In fact, whenever fatwa is mentioned it is Deoband that first comes to mind. The most recent fatwa to emerge from this 146-year-old seminary concerns photography.