OF the many remarkable things about Jalsa Salana – the annual convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, held last weekend in East Worldham – one is that, of the estimated 38,000 attendees, 7,000 were volunteers.
This is a community event in every sense of the word and everybody has a part to play – from the production line of pot washers, bakers, curry and tea makers, to the young water carriers scurrying between the thousands of worshippers in the vast convention halls, ensuring nobody’s thirst is left unquenched.
Their practical help is vital to the smooth running of an event of this size – helping, for instance, to dismantle the 240-plus marquees just days after the event to return Oakland Farm to its natural beauty.
But the volunteers gain a spiritual satisfaction from their work too and there is a huge social element to their roles, and that of the convention generally.
Ahmaddiya Muslims believe there is no compulsion in religion, and nobody is forced to sit in on the weekend’s addresses and speeches.
The real ‘business’ of Jalsa therefore lies in the socialising with friends and colleagues, old and new, in the food halls and tea tents.
It is a communal experience, where nations, races, ages and professions mix under a banner of peace and brotherhood – where even myself, a non-Muslim Herald reporter, is made to feel part of the family for a few wonderful hours in the company of friends.