THOUSANDS of people from around the world gathered at East Worldham last weekend for Britain’s largest annual international Muslim convention.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK held its 50th “Jalsa Salana”, or Annual Convention, at Hadeeqatul Mahdi (formerly known as Oakland Farm) in East Worldham, drawing 38,000 delegates from 90 countries.
The three-day event serves as an opportunity for Ahmadi Muslims to “renew their faith”, “foster the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood”, and “gain guidance on the true teachings of Islam from their spiritual worldwide head, or caliph, of the Ahmadiyya community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad”.
The 210-acre site, which was acquired by the community a decade ago, was converted into a tented village to house the event and offer food, accommodation and exhibitions for the delegates. National and international guests also attended, including the Vice-President of Uganda and many politicians, academics and civic leaders.
Organisers said the highlight of three days of speeches and exhibitions was the five keynote addresses delivered by Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who spoke on the need for “righteousness”, “peace” and, the often contentious issue for the religion, the “rights of women”. The jalsa culminated with an international pledge of allegiance to the “peaceful teachings of Islam at the hands of the caliph”.
Alton mayor Matthew Bayliss attended for the first time and enjoyed meeting members of the community and seeing the exhibitions on display.
“This community preaches peace and love for mankind — respect for fellow human beings regardless of what religion they are or where they come from,” he said. “Muslims receive, depending on the context, something of a mixed press. But everything I’ve seen here highlights everything good about the Islamic faith. I’ve only been met by warmth and welcomed in peace and friendship.”
Mr Bayliss added that the community’s motto of “love for all, hatred for none” is a message “that would have had importance many times in history — but it’s just as important to hear it now as it ever has been”.
Reverend Dr Marcus Braybrook, the joint president of the World Congress of Faith, said it’s important for members of different religions to attend the jalsa, as well. “All of us of different faiths can work together for peace,” he said. “I saw a slogan here that said God made us different communities so we should compete in good works. I’m impressed by all the good works the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community does around the world, and by the community’s openness and commitment to peace”.
Some 6,500 volunteers worked to stage the jalsa, ranging from doctors who served at the first aid facilities, to the kitchen volunteers who fed delegates 175,000 free meals, to the security screeners who checked in attendees. Volunteers conduct almost all the work of the jalsa.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a “dynamic, and fast-growing international movement” within Islam. Founded in 1889, the community spans more than 200 nations with membership exceeding tens of millions.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organisation to believe that the “long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian, India”.
Ahmad claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to “end religious wars”, “condemn bloodshed” and “reinstitute morality, justice and peace”. Ahmad vigorously championed Islam’s “true and essential teachings of peace and self-reformation”.
Ahmadi muslims are sometimes targeted because their beliefs are seen as excessively liberal by other members of the Muslim community.
Earlier this month a man was jailed for life after he admitted the religiously-motivated murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah. an Ahmadi Muslim, whom he claimed had “disrespected” Islam.
Sunni Muslim Tanveer Ahmed, 32, from Bradford, Yorks, stabbed the 40-year-old outside his store in the Shawlands area of the city on March 24. His killer was jailed for a minimum of 27 years.