The words Shari'a law don't really conjure up images of quiet English suburban streets but it is in these rather humble surroundings that you will find Britain's oldest Shari'a court. For Ken Kirby and Peter Day (executive producers), Mark Casebow (associate producer), Ayesha Khan (assistant producer) and myself, they were also to become our second home.
Believe it or not, I spent the first year of my married life shooting my first one-hour film for Channel 4 about divorce. And while making a film about divorce may not sound like the best start to married life, it can teach you a thing or two about what makes a marriage work.
Making a film about Muslims which also tackles a subject as sensitive and taboo as divorce was always going to be difficult. I knew Shari'a courts existed in the UK, primarily to issue Islamic divorces. The first challenge was to gain access to a busy Shari'a council that issues religious rulings.
Working with Peter, our exec producer at Faction Films, Mark and I approached the Islamic Shari'a Council in Leyton. We talked to them extensively about our desire to make a fair and balanced film about this little-seen world. At first, they were hesitant. Even from my own experience as a Muslim, I knew some communities could be reluctant to engage with the media amid concerns about misrepresentation and hidden agendas. But after a few meetings to reassure the council about any concerns they had, they agreed to work with us in order to present accurate and sensitive insight into the workings of a Shari'a court.
But winning the support of the council was only half the battle. In order to produce a really compelling programme, we needed to tell the stories of those seeking a divorce. The challenge we faced was persuading people to let the cameras in at a very vulnerable and difficult period in their lives.
The court has seen an increasing number of Muslims seeking an Islamic divorce, but simply approaching those who came to the council to request a divorce was not going to bear fruit - for while that would garner an initial response, in order to actually gain consent we had to demonstrate that, due to the sensitivity of this topic, their stories would be told honestly and would aim to reflect the views of both parties as accurately as possible. Most of all it took time to gain the trust of the contributors who were having their cases handled by the Shari'a court.
The team worked hard approaching and talking to potential contributors, although at times I really doubted that we would be able to feature the human stories behind the divorces. Aaqil Ahmed, the commissioning editor at C4, and the legal team provided us with hours of support and guidance as we continued our efforts.
Finally, our patience began to pay off. We began to gain the trust of contributors, who were willing to let us film their stories. One woman got in touch because she felt that by being in the film she would help other Muslim women who were also suffering in bad marriages.
Eventually, more came forward, from those seeking divorces to those looking for reconciliation. Soon we had six stories to follow and then the trick was to persevere with them. We also needed to manage the sensitivities of filming during the emotional highs and lows of what can be a very drawn-out divorce process.
This was an observational documentary and, as with all good observational documentaries, you want to capture people as naturally as possible on camera. The Sony Z1 worked well, being quite small and unobtrusive, and captured some important moments for the film. To record good natural sound inside the court we mostly boomed using a 416 Mic backed up with radio mics through a small Sound Devices 302 mixer.
It was really rewarding to get to know our characters, many of whom were pretty outspoken and ready to challenge common stereotypes about Britain's Muslim communities. The result, I hope, will provide a compelling insight into how the Muslim community handles divorce.
Divorce: Shari'a Style is a Faction Films production for Channel 4 commissioned by Aaqil Ahmed. It airs on Sunday 3 February at 7pm
Masood Khan: My tricks of the trade
Smaller cameras and sound gear seem less intimidating to many contributors, help them relax and can give you better results.
Make sure you have the best mics you can afford.
Give yourself lots of time to bond with contributors before getting the camera out but always have it around just in case.
Hospitality is integral to Muslim culture, so if you're going to make a film with Muslims develop a sweet tooth as tea and desserts come thick and fast, and often saying no is not an option.