Britain’s largest Islamic convention will see over 40,000 Muslims from more than 100 countries come together to support and pray for peace in the leafy English countryside. Politicians, Ministers and multi-faith speakers from around the world will also be in attendance. Millions of others will watch the live broadcast via satellite and internet streaming.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the annual Jalsa Salana convention, The event will run from Friday, August 12th to Sunday, August 14th at the 200-acre Oakland farm which has been owned by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community since 2008. Teams of volunteers built a mini-city from scratch in two to three weeks leading up to the convention and will dismantle it in the week afterwards.
The convention features a tent city overlooking the green farmlands, a bustling bazaar, a dining area, a mini-hospital and flags of the constituent countries. The convention will focus on combating extremism through faith and fraternity. It also aims to promote “spiritual uplifting” among members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Food for the soul goes hand in hand with food for the body; feeding the 40,000 convention attendees is a huge task that requires a stand alone “Roti Plant“, which produces over 150,000 pieces of bread a day, Gigantic machines mix the dough, then feeds the dough circles into a machine which in turn flattens them and feeds them into the hot oven. The fresh bread comes out on the other end where volunteers bag them up and transport them to the dining area ready for consumption.
Talking to media, one of the volunteers Javed Uddin said he had been volunteering in the Jalsa kitchens for more than a decade. “This is the most important date in my calendar. I get a huge buzz out of it. It’s really hard work, and after 14 or 15 hours of chopping onions, you stink. You can’t rid of the smell for a week. But I don’t mind because it’s a reflection of what I’ve done for my community.”
The Jalsa is equally attended by both men and women, There is a separate but identical space for women which is equipped with baby-changing stations and pushchair parking.
Fariha Khan, a south London GP who is head of women’s security for the Jalsa said: “The reason behind the separation of men and women is religious, but we also find we are much more comfortable this way”.
Throughout the three days, the Muslims will listen to addresses by various religious scholars but the keynote speaker at the convention will be the 5th “Khalifa of Islam” His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
The Caliph’s security is a top priority for the heavily persecuted community, His personal entourage consists of black cars with blacked out license plates and few dozen security personnel’s who protect him at all times. Some of the personnel’s carry briefcases containing devices designed to deflect bomb blasts. While he speaks at the convention, His entourage of cars is ready to take him away to safety in case of an emergency.
His address will be translated into over a dozen languages and will be telecasted to some 80 million people worldwide through the community’s own TV channel, MTA, which covers Europe, Middle East, North Africa and North America. The event is also being broadcast live by Nigeria’s MITV and TVC.
In 1974 Pakistan declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims and in 1984 banned them from practicing their faith. Since then the Jalsa has faced a continuous ban in Pakistan. It was also in 1984 that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community moved their headquarters from Pakistan to the UK after the Government tried to arrest the community’s 4th Khalifa (Caliph).