The news of the gruesome killings of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the cruelty of the group, Islamic State (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), have been on the front pages of newspapers worldwide. The actions of this militant group are appalling to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Atrocities are not only being carried out against non-Muslims by such jihadist groups, but sectarian violence is a growing cancer seen in many Muslim countries. The critics of Islam are rejoicing in their claim that the faith professed by over 1.6 billion people, is inherently a violent religion. Pamela Gellar, an outspoken anti-Islam blogger and author used her First Amendment right to free speech and took out bus advertisements in the Washington D.C. area over the last three years. Other critics of Islam including, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Ayan Hirsi Ali, have published several books not only maligning Islam but also its founder, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Yet in the midst of unthinkable unrest in the Islamic world, a group of Muslims continues to spread the message of peace all across the globe. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has members in tens of millions and established in more than 200 countries worldwide, came together at their Annual Convention, the Jalsa Salana, in Alton, Hampshire, UK this past weekend. The convention began on Friday, August 29 and ended on Sunday, August 31. The 200 acre farmland, called ‘Hadeeqatul Mahdi’ was transformed into a tent city to accommodate over 33,000 attendees from 97 countries. The entire program was telecast live through MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya) which enabled members all across the world to watch the proceedings from their own homes.
The Jalsa Salana was initiated by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, in 1891. According to him the purpose of this convention is “to enable every sincere individual to personally experience religious benefits.” He further added, “Among its secondary benefits is that this congregational meeting together will promote mutual introduction among all brothers, and it will strengthen the fraternal ties within this Community.”
The keynote speaker at the event was the Khalifa (Caliph) and the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. During his Friday Sermon he reminded the members about the importance and objective of the Annual Convention. He said that the Jalsa Salana provides an opportunity for men and women to gather in the company of the righteous. It is a time to intensify one’s relationship with God through prayers and being mindful of one’s responsibilities towards fellow human beings. At his opening speech, His Holiness drew attention to the fact that for the last fifteen centuries, Islam and its founder the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) have been maligned. Yet, despite of such criticisms and media propaganda, Islam has been making progress in leaps and bounds.
One of the highlights of the convention is the Bai’at or the pledge of allegiance. This event took place on Sunday whereby the Ahmadi Muslims pledged their allegiance to Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad as the Khalifa of the Promised Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The participants formed a human chain which led to the Khalifa as they repeated the words of the pledge in unison. Before the pledge began, His Holiness announced that more than 550,000 people had joined the community during the past year.
Mirza Ghulam Rabbi of Queens, New York had traveled to London with his wife, Farhana Ahmed and children, Husna (13) and Haseeb (12). This was Rabbi’s sixth time at the Jalsa Salana while Farhana attended once before. Describing the experience during the Bai’at ceremony, Rabbi said:
“It is an electrifying feeling when one participates in the pledge. Although the initiation in itself is a short event, it seems as though it is in fact a very long process. It was amazing to see that though we were all from different ethnic backgrounds and spoke different languages we were bonded together spiritually.”
In keeping with the Islamic teaching of separation of genders, the women had their own marquee and their own session on Saturday morning. The keynote address was delivered by the National President of the Women’s Auxiliary, Nasira Rehman. She spoke on the topic of ‘Allegiance to Khilafat’. Farhana Ahmed stayed in the women’s area along with her daughter. Here she had the opportunity to make new friends.
“I met new people at the Jalsa. I came to know two women who had recently joined the community. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I hope to keep in touch with them,” Ahmed said.
It was Harris Zafar’s ninth time attending the convention. Zafar, who is from Portland, Oregon, is the author of the book, “Demystifying Islam- Tackling the Tough Questions” as well as the National Spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA.
"By the grace of God, the international convention went very well. This was the 9th such international convention that I have had the privilege to attend. One of the greatest feelings of being at this convention is to be in the presence of the Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad,” Zafar remarked.
The convention is meant to not only raise spiritual awareness but also a time for experiencing a sense of brotherhood. Zafar and Rabbi both experienced this instant bonding at the convention.
“What is striking is the feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood that is prevalent among the attendees of the convention. Here you have 33,000 Muslims from literally all parts of the world gathered in a peaceful gathering to collectively strengthen their bonds of humanity and their level of spirituality. And all of us are drawn together under the leadership of the Khalifa. It was a remarkable feeling being there, and I can't wait for next year," Zafar said.
“It was good to meet people I already knew as well as meeting new members. Each year that I have attended the convention, I have found the sense of brotherhood becoming stronger than the previous year,” Rabbi remarked.
The convention concluded with silent prayer led by His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. He asked the attendees to pray for the Ahmadi Muslims of the world who are in difficulties and he also reminded everyone to pray for the betterment of the world.