On a cold, wet July day I joined the international Ahmadiyya Community to discuss peace, justice and security while wading through mud in our wellies at East Worldham (previously Oaklands Farm.) The event was the Ahmadi Muslim’s annual convention known as the “Jalsa Salana.” Unsure what to expect, I set off on an adventure.
My first stop was lunch masterminded by Head Chef Rafi Shah who produced 300,000 meals for 38,000 people. Chefs worked around the clock, making 10,000 chapattis per hour and using three tonnes of rice and nine tonnes of meat. Volunteers, 5000 of them, made this event great.
I witnessed a reunion of two old friends, Councillor Mukesh Malhotra, Deputy Mayor of Hounslow and Asif Ali Parvez. “Mr Parvez runs the marriage bureau, he is our very own love professor”, Councillor Malhotra joked. This means he makes introductions and helps families to resolve disputes. But seriously, I was told, in South Asian culture, a marriage is between two families.
At 6pm I headed over to the Voice of Islam studio to take part in a fascinating live discussion about representations of Islam in the media and literature.
Sunday was a day of prayer and the mood was more sombre.
Delegates pledged allegiance to the peaceful teachings of Islam under the guidance of the Caliph Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad who is the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Community. They made a century-old pledge of peace and loyalty and formed a human chain.
Islam is the guarantee of security in the world, the Caliph told delegates. Without exception, without any discrimination, all of the people are equal. It’s when people think they are superior, that they disturb the peace.
As a Christian, I was struck by this message of peace and reconciliation. In our secular society the temptation for the media is to turn to religions for a negative comment. But these journalists are missing a trick.
Editors should not be afraid to publish good news stories about religions that promote peace and human rights.
In an age of global insecurity and terrorism, spiritual leaders may have the answer and the reach as they urge people to pray for peace and to respect one another.
The Caliph told us there is no superiority as a human being. A white person is not superior to a black person, nor is a black person superior to a white.
He said it is when people think they are superior, that they disturb the peace of the world. Lawlessness comes from a feeling of inferiority. Terrorists may take God’s name in vain, and they are not the only ones to do so, but they act in their own strength, cut off from God.
“Love for all, hatred for none” is the Ahmadi motto.
Some sects of Islam do not recognise Ahmadi Muslims because Ahmadis believe the awaited Messiah has already come: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India.
Ahmadi Muslims poured into Oaklands Farm in Hampshire in their thousands for the biggest annual Muslim convention in Britain called the “Jalsa Salana” last weekend.
Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad reminded his community that peace, brotherhood and loyalty to one’s country are the essence of Islam. He explained that Muslims should respect people of other religions and none because God loves all nations equally and no nation or group is superior.
Delegates then pledged allegiance to the peaceful teachings of Islam under the guidance of the Caliph.
During the weekend, delegates were reminded of the words of the Quran: “Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” Qu’ran 5:32
Barrister and QC Karim Khan explained what this means in practice. He said: “The divisions (in society) are artificial, we are bound together by that uniting “love for all hatred for none” (the Ahmadi motto). This is not an abstract concept. A smile is charity. You don’t need to be rich to be kind.”
He said the Prophet of Islam taught us to be kind to humanity because we are like servants of humanity. “How does the community manifest its love for God?” he asked. “By showing compassion and kindness regardless of religion, class and colour. That is the unifying message.”
Behind the scenes, 5,000 volunteers worked to make sure the event ran smoothly including Head Chef Rafi Shah who produced 300,000 meals for 38,000 people. Chefs worked around the clock, making 10,000 chapattis per hour and they used three tonnes of rice and nine tonnes of meat.
Mayor of Waverley Simon Inchball attended the convention for the first time this year. He said the organisation was extraordinary and praised the Humanity First tent in particular. He said: “I had no idea that they were involved in so many areas (around the world.) “They want to put their hand to helping others. It has been a very inspirational visit.”
Councillor Marsie Skeete, who is the Mayor of Merton, came to the convention with her consort, Yeuton Crandon. She said: “It is very beautiful that we work closely with the Ahmadi Muslims. They are helping to fund, organise and publicise our peace walk on 17 September this year. At this convention, they preach a lot about peace.
“The togetherness that the Ahmadis bring into our lives is amazing. They don’t look at creed, colour, race or religion or anything. The highlight of my year is going to the peace symposium. I love the food but it is just the togetherness that is so special.”
Chris Thompson is the Community Sergeant in charge from Hampshire Police. He said it was a brilliant event that was exceptionally safe and well run.
Major Frankie Howell and Colour Seargant Phillip Eeren from the army came to experience the culture and to help people understand what the army has to offer. For example, during recent floods, Major Howell said the army were the first people on the scene and their vehicles are often deployed to help people in need. He said in the Welsh regiment they now have 22 Muslim soldiers.
Kaylie Smith from Basingstoke is a trainee RE teacher who came to the Jalsa with her son, Jackson. She said the convention was larger than she expected and she liked the open sense of community.
National President, Rafiq Hayat said: “Attending the convention strengthens our faith in God and our ties of kinship and fraternity. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community instils a strong sense of community, family and respect for wider society from a young age.
“Our children are raised with the understanding that ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ is not just a motto, but a way of life and that is how we have successfully shunned all forms of extremism and will continue to do so. The call of the day is to be of service to our communities and as members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we will exert every effort to be exemplary role models within society.”
Harry van Bommel was an MP in the Netherlands for nineteen years and spokesperson for foreign affairs. He said: “I am worried. We see a world moving in a different direction with violent extremism, governments acting in the wrong way, tension building up not reducing and enhancing this extremism.” However he welcomed the theme of this year’s convention which is peace and justice, saying it is exactly what is needed.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for Commonwealth and the UN, including human rights, has been a member of the Ahmadiyya Community all his life. He said: “The flag of the community is side by side with the UK flag. It is part of your DNA to be responsible, there is no conflict between faith, community and devotion and dedication to the country. The UK is the best place to be a Christian etc. or a person of no faith. We need to protect that, protect other faiths.”
Guests came from many different faiths and countries including the Sikh Community, the All Faiths Network, Scientology and Mr Muhammad Sharif Odeh who is the head of the Ahmadiyya Community in Israel and Palestine.
Jane Donnelly from Atheist Ireland said they had formed an alliance with the Ahamdiyya Community because they are all minorities in Ireland fighting for religious freedom. Jim Shannon MP from the Democratic Unionist Party commended the Ahmadi Muslims for giving a voice to the voiceless. Eamon O’Cuiv is an MP from the Fianna Fail Party in the Republic of Ireland. He said: “The commitment to peace is something I very much relate to and their (Ahmadi Muslims) openness to dialogue with all religions.” He said he liked the very strong friendships forged at the Jalsa.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long- awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India. Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The Community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad vigorously championed Islam’s true and essential teachings of peace and self-reformation.
You can find out more about the Ahmadiyya Community in the UK here or by tuning into Voice of Islam Radio and by following events on social media @jalsaUK or #jalsaUK.