Muslims urged to remember the poor at annual festival

Last weekend more than 40,000 people flocked to Oaklands Farm in Hampshire to hear their spiritual leader speak at an annual Muslim festival of prayer and food. The motto of the community is ‘love for all, hatred for none.’

The international festival of the Ahmadiyya Community, called the ‘Jalsa Salana’ is held every year in Alton on a 210-acre site in Hampshire. Delegates travel from every corner of the globe to get there including Asia, Africa, the Pacific Isles, North and South America, Canada and Oman.

Rafiq Hayat said the festival helped to “remind people that it is their duty as Muslims to be loyal, peaceful and dutiful citizens, to protect others and be of service to humanity.” Mr Hayat is the national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in the UK.

The Caliph, Hazrat Mizra Masroor Ahmad, warned world leaders, in a keynote speech, that the Ukraine war could spread. He advised the international community not to try to “humiliate the aggressor” by punishing Russia in a way that might feed further conflict.

He was speaking to 41,654 Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Community who came together for their annual festival.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, said that the Koran teaches Muslims not to “let the enmity of any nation or party prevent you from upholding the true standards of justice.”

He said of the Ukraine conflict: “There are genuine concerns that the Ukraine conflict could spread or that other nations could be emboldened to abandon diplomatic efforts to resolve their disputes and resort to force.”

On Friday 28 July, the Caliph, who is the community’s spiritual leader hoisted their flag alongside the Union Jack held by Mr Hayat. On Sunday, Ahmadi Muslims pledged their allegiance to their leader and to their teachings of Islam.

annual Muslim festival
Flag raising at the international festival of the Ahmadiyya Community

More than 7000 volunteers made the annual Muslim festival a success, serving 270,000 meals – lentil-based dahl for lunch and lamb and potatoes for dinner. Volunteers made 9,000 rotis an hour in the on-site bread factory, starting at 3am.

There are 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims in the UK and 10-20 million spread across the world, many in Africa. The Ahmadiyya Community is a minority sect of Islam that is outlawed in Pakistan because Ahmadis do not believe that Muhammed was the final Muslim prophet. It’s a claim that some Sunni and Shia Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

Hailey Rose is the Youth Chief from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan Canada. Describing her experience of the annual Muslim festival, she said: “I feel the energy, it’s an awakening, it woke me up, I feel a sense of belonging, the community, the people are very loving and welcoming, kind-hearted. They take good care of us.

“You feel like family. Everyone just wants to feel like they belong. When we were up on stage it was very empowering and uplifting to see how the men treat the women. Women have very high status.”

Indigenous Canadian Delegation
Hailey Rose (right) is the Youth Chief with the Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan, Canada and JR Larose, retired footballer

Ahmadiyya Muslims follow the same holy texts as Sunni and Shia Muslims, but believe that the messiah promised in Islam has already arrived, believing it to be Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1835 in Qadian in India. He is revered as a prophet by Ahmadiyya Muslims while Sunni and Shia Muslims hold Muhammad to be the last prophet.

Farooq Dean is an A&E doctor working in the UK. He went to Turkey in February to offer assistance after the earthquake with the non-governmental organization, Humanity First. Its mission is: ‘to serve disaster struck and socially disadvantaged individuals and families in the poorer communities of the world.’

Dr Dean, who is a registrar, said: “The destruction was unimaginable and we were providing primary care. We offered an initial response to the disaster. First, we provided aid to Syria. There were a few channels open to get aid over the border.”

Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Californian corporate lawyer based in LA and a Law Professor at the University of California (UCLA), said compassion is in the DNA of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is my experience as a guest  journalist whenever I meet them.

IAAAE General Secretary Europe Mahboob Ur Rehman
Mahboob Ur Rehman is a structural engineer and general secretary of the International Association of Ahmadi Architects and Engineers for Europe

Mahboob Ur Rehman is a structural engineer and general secretary of the International Association of Ahmadi Architects and Engineers for Europe (IAAAE) set up in 1980 to connect poorer countries to the rest of the world. He was inspired by the Caliph at the annual Muslim festival to use his skills help the poor overseas.

It costs £75,000 to transform a village in Africa, installing water systems, solar pumps, building a medical clinic, a school and houses. The first pilot village was in Burkina Faso, they have now brought water and, where possible, electricity to 37 villages in 15 countries across Africa, including Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin, Tanzania, Uganda and the island of Mayotte off the coast of Mozambique.

Most Ahmadis do not claim expenses when they travel to other countries to share their expertise because they are highly skilled and successful people. They live in tents, ensuring the overheads are low and the project is completed at cost. They train people on the ground to maintain the infrastructure and during the pandemic, they used YouTube to support them. Since then, this sustainable development work has accelerated.

The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continually urges the West not to overlook the searing poverty of developing countries who have battled famine, drought, floods, and sometimes armed conflict, for centuries. At the peace symposium in 2018, he said: “People living in the world’s poorest nations do not concern themselves with the environment, or the latest figures on carbon emissions; rather they wake up each day wondering if they will be able to feed their children…

“We must not consider such hardship as other people’s problems. Instead, we must realise that the result of such poverty has severe implications for the wider-world and directly affects global peace and security.” Ahmadi Muslims, the Caliph said, need to leave behind, “a legacy of opportunity” for future generations.

“By helping the developing nations stand on their own feet, and by giving their people opportunities and hope, we will actually be helping ourselves and safeguarding the future of the world.”

When asked about climate change by students in Indonesia in 2021, the Caliph said we need to plant two trees for every one we cut down because of population growth that is fueling deforestation across the developing world.

Humanity First School in Mayotte
School built by Humanity First on the island of Mayotte near Mozambique and Madagascar

In his speech in 2018, he asked: “Is there anyone who thinks that heavy bombardment has no effect on the atmosphere?

“Furthermore, if peace ever does prevail in the war-torn countries, their towns and cities will have to be rebuilt from scratch, and this, in itself, will be a huge industry that will cause an increase in harmful emissions and pollution. Thus, on the one hand, we are trying to save the planet, yet with our other hand, we are senselessly destroying it.”

With thanks to Kaya Burgess, Science Reporter and Religious Affairs Correspondent at the Times and Sunday Times who supplied a significant amount of the content.