A FARM in the heart of the East Hampshire countryside shrugged off its working mantle for 28 days to make way for Britain’s biggest annual Islamic gathering.
Some 38,000 Muslims from over the world travelled to Hadeeqatul Mahdi, otherwise known as the 210 acres of Oaklands Farm, on the B3004 at East Worldham near Alton – to attend the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s three-day Jalsa Salana.
With the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester still fresh in their minds, they were there from July 28 to reaffirm that “peace, brotherhood and loyalty to one’s country” are the essence of their faith, and to renew their pledge to renounce violence.
The Fifth Caliph and worldwide head of the community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, reminded delegates that: “Islam is that religion which has forever enshrined the universal principles of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of belief.
“Therefore, if today there are so-called Muslim groups or sects that are killing people, it can only be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
Behind the scenes, 5,000 volunteers, including a planeload from Canada, worked hard to ensure the event ran smoothly. Led by Mohammed Nasser Khan, they laid 10 miles of tracking, erected security fencing and scores of marquees – the men’s main marquee held 10,000 delegates – additional water tanks, gas and electricity supplies, a temporary mobile phone mast and aerials and studios for Jalsa FM and MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International), celebrating its 25th anniversary and broadcasting live to 220 countries around the world.
The Ahmadis are regarded as heretics by some mainstream Muslims – particularly in India and Pakistan – so security had been tightened – and health and safety was a priority. From structural engineering concerns to food hygiene, fire and healthe, there were many challenges for the volunteers, most of whom do different jobs in real life.
Men such as head chef Rafi Shah, an incident investigation officer for Network Rail, whose team used more than three tonnes of rice and nine tonnes of meat to produce 300,000 meals over the three days, and textile engineer Agha Abid, who once survived an horrific kidnapping in his native Pakistan, and oversaw the baking of an incredible 10,000 chapattis per hour.
East Worldham parish clerk Robin Twining praised the “fantastic logistical operation” and said that the Ahmadis had worked hard to improve access and traffic flow on the B3004.
They had “learnt a lot and come a long way since 2007”, when wet weather resulted in traffic gridlock.
Keen to welcome visitors to the site, the Ahmadis played host during the course of the event to residents, members of other faiths, the emergency services and civic VIPs, including Alton mayor Dean Phillips.
Impressed by the way the convention had grown over the years, he praised the “amazing infrastructure” and exhibitions highlighting the Ahmadis’ work in the community together with their “inspiring” humanitarian work in disaster zones.
He said of his hosts: “They were incredibly welcoming and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t done so to take the opportunity to visit one day.
“The convention does help boost the local economy and we should be very proud to have them on our doorstep.”