More than 38,500 Ahmadi Muslims from 115 countries poured into Oaklands Farm near Alton in Hampshire. They gathered to hear their leader’s message about true Islam, to recommit themselves to working for the good of humanity and to promote peace, tolerance and unity at home and abroad. This message is best captured by the motto of the Ahmadiyya Community which is: “Love for all, hatred for none.”
Paul Scully who is MP for Sutton and Cheam has a lot of Ahmadi Muslims in his constituency. He has known them since he was a councillor. He said: “The motto does just run through everything they do.”
Mr Scully remembered that after the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the Ahmadis threw open their Mosque in spite of the cartoons of the Prophet. They were among the first at the vigil in Trafalgar Square after the Westminster terror attack. He said: “It is practising what they preach, especially now in these febrile times. Anti-semitism, Islamaphobia, regional conflicts. Despite being a community that is persecuted, they still reach out to achieve their motto which is peace around the world… All they want is the ability to worship freely with respect.”
Ahmadi Muslims believe in the Messiah and accept Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century spiritual reformer from India, as the Messiah awaited by all major religions. Other Muslims disagree.
Farooq Aftab is the UK Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Youth. He said: “There is no contradiction between being Muslim and being British. There is no religious freedom in Pakistan, the UK is more Islamic than Pakistan because the foundations of society are more in line with true Islam. Islam teaches tolerance, respect for others and serving humanity. No Ahmadi has ever been radicalised anywhere in the world.”
Councillor Bernadette Khan is the Mayor of Croydon. She has worked with Ahmadi women as a social worker and has friends in the community. Mrs Khan said: “I think we (human beings) create the barriers in any town, village or setting (workplace etc.) Croydon is very diverse, it’s also very rich, and it benefits from the diversity, all of our communities benefit. For us diversity is a way of life.”
Anthony Williams is the Chairman of East Hampshire district. He has lived in Hampshire for 42 years, been a parish councillor for 21 years and is the longest serving councillor in the district at the moment but he had not visited the Muslim convention called the “Jalsa Salana” until he became chairman.
It feels as if the Jalsa is one of Hampshire’s best kept secrets, now in its 13th year. Entry to the convention is open, you don’t need to be an Ahmadi Muslim nor wait for an invitation to attend. You do need to register your details and let the organisers know you are on site.
Mr Williams said: “Everyone is welcome, there’s no trouble. It’s so well organised, more than 35,000 people, it’s delightful to be able to see it from the inside. I wish more people knew about the Ahmadis. It’s not well known, we hear about the controversy but you don’t hear the good news. It’s an uphill struggle because the media like drama.”
Councillor Mike Parsons, Mayor of Guilford, said he was impressed by the amount of charitable work the Ahmadiyya Community do including finding water in Africa. He said there is a widespread lack of understanding of Islam. Mr Parsons said: “It was a no brainer to come along. The Ahmadis are kind hearted. They volunteer from such a young age and take a pride in it. People realise how humble you should be. The work is absolutely amazing and delegates remembered my name.”
Ahmadi Muslim Councillor and former Mayor of Runnymede, Iftikhar Chaudhri was the first non-Christian mayor ever in that area. He talked about his motivation: “My father said change hearts and minds and work for communities that make the world better.”
He worked hard to organise 5000 Ahmadi Muslims and non-Ahmadi people in a walk for peace which raised £1 million for charity including St Peter’s hospital.
Explaining his approach to his work, he said: “I never thought I was better than anyone else as mayor. I raised money for the Red Cross. Islam is everything I do and it only teaches good and respect for others. There is a major problem with the portrayal (of Islam) in the media. We have no other Muslim councillors. People that opposed me, later shook my hand. Whatever we do should be good for society.”
Leader of Runnymede Councillor Nick Prescott said the Ahmadi Muslims raised more money for charity than all the others put together. When there was a flood in the area, the Ahmadis provided food and distributed sand bags alongside a group of Hindus.
Derek Gardner, Mayor of Alton, said: “It’s absolutely enthralling. This is my first visit, it will not be my last.”
Nasser Ahmad Khan, an Ahmadi Muslim convention delegate volunteers with Humanity First, the community’s disaster relief programme. He believes that the UK is one of the greatest countries in the world, even post Brexit, because of the level of diversity, thought and tolerance. He said: “Our home countries would not allow it.”
MP for Kingston and Surbiton Ed Davey said: “I have had many Ahmadi Muslim friends over many years. I am privileged to work and campaign with them. They represent the best of British society.”
As a visitor to the Jalsa Salana for the second time, I was struck by how much Ahmadi Muslims contribute to the economy and yet how humbly they serve as volunteers. It takes a team of 7,000 people to organise, and staff the convention but I was told firmly that no one is indispensable. And volunteering is not confined to the Jalsa. Their disaster relief charity, Humanity First, is also run by volunteers who give up annual leave and pay their own air fares to travel and help communities in need around the globe. Ahmadi Muslims know what it means to serve humanity, not just their own people, and they are always on the lookout for ways to contribute positively to society.
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, #jalsaUK or #jalsaconnect.
Extracts from this article were published by the Alton Herald.