Eight hundred and fifty women and girls spent a weekend of spiritual workout at the East Coast Annual Ijtema (gathering). The event was sponsored by the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and held at the Baitur Rahman Mosque, the Community’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The program began on Friday the 13th and ended on Sunday, the 15th. Each year there is a different central theme. This year’s theme was, “Come to Prayer, Come to Prosperity”, a phrase which is used in the Islamic call to Prayer, the Adhan.
The East Coast Ijtema is the largest gathering of Ahmadi Muslim women in America. It is an event attended by members from as far north as Providence, Rhode Island and as far south as Orlando, Florida. A few chose to fly while others found it more fun to drive or take the bus. Some left their children in the care of their husbands while others brought them along. This is an event not to be missed. It is a time when the local members open up their homes to the many guests who arrive for the weekend.
Islam is based on what is referred to as the five pillars. These are the duties which God commanded the Muslims to perform. Prayer (Salah in Arabic) is considered to be the second pillar of Islam. The weekend’s program revolved around various workshops and panel discussions on this pillar. Friday’s opening session included a background on the Adhan and a creative workshop. When the Muslims built the first mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 622 C.E., they realized that they needed a way to announce the time for Prayer. The Jews used the horn of a ram called the shofar and the Christians used bells. One of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) said that he had a dream in which he saw a man with a loud voice calling the worshippers to Prayer. Since then it became an Islamic tradition to have someone recite in a melodious voice the call to Prayer. Such a person is called a muezzin and Bilal, a freed slave and a companion of the Prophet was the first muezzin. Other presentations included topics such as, the etiquettes and importance of Prayer.
The weekend gathering was not only a time for spiritual reflection but also an opportunity to renew old friendships and make new ones. The intersession breaks allowed friends and relatives to sit together and have meals and engage in conversations. There were various food stalls where one could indulge in delicious appetizers or delectable desserts.
Bushra Salaam Bajwa from Gainesville, Florida, came to the Ijtema with her daughter. She has been a regular at these gatherings. She was one of the organizers of the workshops.
“The best part of the Ijtema is the closeness and unity. It is always thrilling and exciting to see everyone and experience the joy of sisterhood”, Bajwa said. “The workshops were very spiritual and I was honored to be behind the scene involved in managing one of the workshops,” she further added.
All of the work done at the Ijtema is done on a volunteer basis. There are a vast number of women and girls who spend countless number of hours before, during, and after the event.
“I appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into planning for and executing a event of this kind, and especially how cheerful and helpful all the volunteers are. Our organizers and volunteers are enabled to serve of course through the Grace and help of Almighty God, as they are in all our meetings, Ijtimā’at and Jalsas, but no matter how many I have attended in the UK or in the US, I never take it for granted and truly appreciate the spirit of sacrifice and service,” Bajwa commented.
This was the second year that Terez Varkonyi had the opportunity to attend the Ijtema. She is a law student at Temple University, Philadelphia and a recent convert to Islam.
“I have a very positive impression of the Ijtema. I thoroughly enjoy attending the event where I can catch up with friends and get a spiritual uplift at the same time,” Varkonyi remarked. “It is great to share with my sisters and participate in the congregational Prayers,” she added.
Girls between the ages of seven and fifteen had separate sessions of workshops and craft activities. They had Qur’an recitation competitions as well as fun quizzes and games. One of the highlights of the girls’ program was a poster making competition on the theme related to Prayer. There was an interactive session for members between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five where they shared their personal experiences regarding acceptance of prayers.
At the conclusion of the 3-day event the attendees left with a renewed spirit and a hope for another invigorating gathering in a year’s time.