OVER 30,000 MUSLIMS PLEDGE PEACE AT ANNUAL CONVENTION As dawn breaks over farmland in rural Hampshire, the flags of many nations flutter in the morning breeze. Those nations in reality represent more than 200 in total and stand for the tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims worldwide.
Over 30,000 Ahmadis from 80 countries gathered in Alton, Hampshire, for the annual convention for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community convention, also known as Jalsa Salana. The event took place over the weekend of 29 to 31 August 2014, and was an opportunity for Ahmadis to immerse in prayer, learning and sanctification for all those who could attend. Marquees filled the 200 acre site and acted as mosques during times of prayer. MTA Television, the broadcasting company of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, televised live services directly into the homes of the many millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world who could not attend the Jalsa.
In the very same hour on Friday afternoon, whilst Prime Minister David Cameron made a public announcement relating to the increase in the level of terror threat in the UK from ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’, the Ahmadi leader – or ‘Caliph’ – His Holiness Khalifatul Masih V Mirza Masroor Ahmad, addressed the masses gathered for Jummah (prayers). In his address, the Caliph promoted messages of only peace and unity. He said: “Terrorism is born from the selfish acts of those who act for their own needs. The teachings of Islam is as follows – to love mankind not terrorism. Using the name of Islam for the shedding of blood is wrong. These people who cut the necks of other people are wrongly using the beautiful name of Islam.”
Ibrahim Noonan is the first Irish Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and had travelled to Jalsa Salana from his base in Galway. Of the messages he had received during Jalsa Salana which he hoped to relay to his people back in Ireland, he said: “The message my people will be getting is the message from His Holiness, which is a message of peace. I think part of that message will be that peace in the world can only come when we turn to God Almighty. I do a lot of public speaking and hope that the message from the Jalsa will not only show our community but also help others to live out that message of peace.”
Imam Noonan spoke candidly about how he hopes his new mosque, due for completion any day soon, will be a beacon in the neighbourhood in which he serves. The building is due to be formally opened on 26 September 2014. Named the Maryum Mosque (or Mary Mosque) it will hold 300 members and it is hoped His Holiness will be in attendance at the official launch. Imam Noonan hopes that peace can be achieved in spite of living in a multi-faith community in Ireland. He went on to explain: “What I want to show to Christians and Catholics is that Islam has a lot in common with them. Once our hearts are atpeace with one another, everything else comes as a result. Once the boundaries removed and misconceptions allayed, we will be able to bring that love to them. It is a challenge but we have to set an example of tolerance, love and peace.”
Tahir Selby leads the Nasir Mosque in Hartlepool, County Cleveland. His mosque serves a wider community including Ahmadis from Stockton and beyond. He said: “We have congregation of around 100 people. The message this year is the same message as always – and that is a message of peace. I have been coming for many, many years to Jalsa. I have heard this message many times but the message is not to just listen but to act upon it – that is the problem in the Muslim world today. The message of peace is there but do we act upon it? We have to practice our faith. It is important that people see the true Islam and we can only do that by acting that out our faith. Islam is about love for God and by acting on it we show a love for mankind. We can all live peacefully together; Muslim, Christian – whatever it is – it is just a label. What we need to do is ‘love thy neighbour’ and live peaceably. When you find God’s way, you find peace.”
Women were also in focus at Jalsa Salana and likewise attended in their thousands. In-keeping with the Islamic faith, the men and women were separated and a virtually identical event was hosted in the women’s area. The ladies had their own inspirational keynote speakers in attendance including the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Community, in addition to hearing the messages from the Caliph.
Sarah Khan, a member of the Baitul Futuh mosque in Morden, London, said: “I have seen a lot of changes over the years. Years ago Islam did not mean terrorism, fanaticism and danger as it does today to many people. I don’t think it’s all down to the media either. Interestingly, when you look back at 9/11, 11 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, yet the country which was attacked in return was Iraq. The main Muslim countries are, at the moment, bearing the brunt of a lot of this continued unrest. There are other Muslims who are interpreting Islam in their own way and this breeds extremism. Since the ruling [against Ahmadis] in Pakistan in 1974, the people in that country have lived in a position of endemic persecution being the norm. Now those people living in Pakistan have now got families, and the persecution and regime of people being jailed for practising their own faith seems an everyday normality. Worringly, these people see nothing wrong in persecuting others. A generation has grown up with the belief that it is acceptable to persecute others for their faith. It’s indoctrinated – and wrong. It speaks of a failure in the British system too when we have people from this country going over to Syria to fight. It is also a failure on the part of British society as we have collectively had a role in creating these young people who have now gone over to commit atrocities on foreign soil. As a Muslim woman, I can say that our fellow Muslims feel this is abhorrent. Islam is about peace. Islam is not about this violence which you see in the news. All people have a right to have their own faiths, and we should share in the commonality.”
The weekend of Jalsa Salana culminated in the Bai’at held on Sunday afternoon, where the Caliph led the gathering in pledging to remain faithful to the 10 primary promises of the Ahmadi faith.
Ahmadi Muslims constitute a reformed sect of Islam and were founded in 1889. There are some countries in which Ahmadiyya Muslims are not accepted. Since 1974 it has been illegal to practice being an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, this being the reason why the caliphate has been based in the UK.
The UK is now formally regarded as the international headquarters for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Source: Lynda Bowyer, NUJ registered freelance press photographer and journalist 29 August 2014.