Amidst the continued unrest in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, a group of Muslims came together for a three-day convention at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to spread the message of unity and peace. More than 7,000 men, women, and children convened at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex for the Annual Convention (Jalsa Salana) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The convention ended on Sunday, August 17 with prayers for world peace. The Jalsa Salana was attended by several dignitaries who lauded the continued efforts by one of the oldest Muslim organizations in America. The main focus of this year’s gathering was to discuss how faith can play an important role in intervening in the crises prevailing all over the globe.
“We are at a critical point in a conflict-ridden world.” said Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah, National Vice President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “The world cries for a solution and we are here to offer that solution through dialogue, education, and a sense of community.”
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 said, “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 conference included presentations on the following topics:
1. The Khalifa of Islam as the Solution to World Crises
2. An Urgent Call to Save America
3. Erring and Forgiving in Islam
4. Muhammad’s Examples of Mercy for His Companions
5. Examples of Khalifas of Islam Conquering Hearts through Love
6. Establishing a Living Faith in God
7. Practical Steps Towards Self-Reformation
8. Giving Precedence to One’s Faith Over Worldly Objects
9. Safety in the Fortress of the Messiah
10. The Unity of God
11. Giving Precedence to Faith Over Worldly Concerns
The convention was attended by several guests including those from civic, political, and religious arenas all of whom, including foreign diplomats, lauded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s affiliated charitable organization, Humanity First, for its ongoing humanitarian efforts in many countries, in particular, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Guatemala, and Marshall Islands.
A citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was presented by Patty Kim extolling their efforts to create new pathways to peace, saying that Islam had in the past “been unfairly labeled” as anything but a peaceful religion.
Shaarik Zafar, the U.S. State Department’s newly appointed Special Representative to Muslim Communities spoke about the need for unity among all people to promote peace. “Now more than ever it’s important for members of all faiths, including those of no faith, to come together to promote peace…the entire Unites States government stands with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” Zafar remarked.
Each year the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA presents its annual Humanitarian Award. This year there were two recipients. The first was U.S. Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN) who addressed the convention attendees via a video message by thanking the community and its international Khalifa, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Citing the violence in Palestine, Pakistan and at the hands of ISIS, Congressman Carson concluded by recognizing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, saying: “You have dedicated yourselves to the improvement of our communities.”
The second award was presented to Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In his acceptance speech, Dr. George talked about the continued discrimination and persecution against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan and Indonesia but commended the patience and perseverance demonstrated by the community members in the face of persecution.
“Those behind the persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslims are some of the worst enemies of human freedom and dignity. But what a refreshing difference there is between you and your persecutors. Unlike them, you believe that people have inherent dignity, worth, and God-given rights which no movement or government can ever take away. You believe that human beings were created for fellowship and peace. You believe in the right of every member of the human family to worship freely according to conscience,” George said.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a dynamic, reformist, and fast growing community within Islam. It is spread over the globe in more than 200 countries with a membership of over 160 million. The Community was established here in the United States in 1920 and as such is among the first American-Muslim organizations.
Though the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community span over many countries across the globe, it is in Pakistan that they face ongoing persecution. During the opening session on Friday afternoon, the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Dr. Ahsanullah Zafar, drew specific reference to two most recent incidents of such persecution in Pakistan. On May 26, 2014, Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar, a cardiologist from Columbus, Ohio was gunned down in front of his wife and young son as he was visiting the graves of his relatives. Dr. Qamar went to Pakistan to volunteer at the Tahir Heart Institute. The second horrific incident took place in the town of Gujranwala in the province of Punjab on July 27, 2014. Mob set ablaze several houses which took the lives of a 55 year old woman and her two small grandchildren.
Despite the brutal persecution faced by the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, the members have never retaliated with violence or disorder. The weapon of choice has always been prayers.
“We need to pray for the Ahmadis who suffered and who are suffering and we need to pray for the people who cannot see the light of the day who are so blinded by their own situation…and they are committing such a horrific act. We need to pray for all of them,” Zafar exhorted the members.
The Jalsa Salana is always a free event arranged and managed by hundreds of volunteers. It is open to public. Attendees come to get spiritually rejuvenated and to foster a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood. It is also a time to reconnect with family members who live away from each other. On Sunday, the final day, the venue is stripped bare and as people say their final goodbyes, they are already thinking about the next year’s convention.