Facts Behind The Hijab

finalfactsbehindhijabblog.png

Maleeha Mansur, Hayes, London

The hijab is a garment that bestows its wearers wings of liberation. However, for those who fail to understand it, it is unjustly labelled a cage of oppression. In order to bring some clarity to this heavily misunderstood garment, a review of some facts is in order.

A Divine Commandment

Not uncommonly these days, one hears of the odd individual boldly announcing that the hijab is not a Divine commandment but a cultural tradition. A rather absurd notion when we observe that the hijab is universally adhered to across all cultural and geographical boundaries; from the Arabian deserts, to African villages and the suburbs of London and New York. So the hijab belongs to no-one culture, it is a practice of faith.

Let us clarify this matter with the Divine authority of the Holy Qur’an.

In chapter 24, verse 32 it states

“And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head covers over their bosoms…”

There is much to be learnt from this verse, Firstly, that the hijab is not just a headscarf. Certainly not; there is much greater depth and breadth to this topic. The concept of the hijab defines a standard of modesty. The eyes observe the hijab through restraint of one’s gaze. The tongue observes the hijab through use of appropriate language when speaking to the opposite gender. Indeed, every part of the body partakes in observing the hijab in its own way.

Free Choice

Over and over again, Muslim women are told their hijab has been forced upon them, that they are unable to make decisions for themselves, or that they are deprived of their freedom. In reality, the only force involved for the vast majority of Muslim women donning the hijab is the force of persuasion of a beautiful teaching. If the hijab was to be forcefully enforced on Muslim women, would not a punishment be prescribed for those who don’t wear it? However, there is none to be found, only the wonderful realisation that Islam is a religion of choice. Once one is convinced of the truth of Islam and chooses to come under its fold, naturally then such a person adheres to its teachings.

Crucial For Social Morality

Without the physical aspects of the hijab, the moral state of society enters a steep decline. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an clearly states that the physical hijab enables women to be “distinguished and not molested”[i]. Society today is testament to the need for such physical barriers. Take the music industry for example, sexual assaults have been recognised as a worldwide problem to such an extent that the Swedish Bråvalla Festival has been made female-only until, as Emma Knyckare, the Swedish comedian organising the event, tweeted, “…ALL men have learned how to behave themselves”[ii]

Certainly then, before the hijab is outlawed and brought to question attention needs to be brought to the moral training of men.

Modesty is First Prescribed for Men

Prior to the verse cited above, the Holy Qur’an instructs the following, to men.

“Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.” (Chapter 24: Verse 31)

So in fact, the concept of hijab is first prescribed for men. A certain standard of modesty is expected of Muslim men. Islam recognises the inherent differences between men and women, hence, it prescribes an additional physical covering for women. It places women in the driving seat, letting them decide who they wish to reveal their beauty to. Indeed, modern day advertisement testifies to the power of female beauty, wherever attention needs to be drawn, it is done so with women.

A Means of Liberation – Ask those Who Don it!

Sadly, the words ‘oppression’ and ‘hijab’ are often found in the same sentence. Would the world dare to ask those who don the hijab if they are oppressed or liberated. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t make for much of a headline as it would elicit only the resounding chorus of ‘We are independent, free and liberated women. This is our choice, the wisdom of which we see and experience daily. Just as no individual should to be stripped of their clothing, we should also not be stripped to what is akin to nudity to us, under the false pretext of liberation. If there is wisdom greater than Islam’s then show it to us, persuade our hearts and minds with arguments and reasoning as Islam has done.’

[i] Chapter 33:Verse 60
[ii] Swedish music festival to be female-only ‘until all men learn how to behave themselves’, Christopher Hooton, The Independent, Wednesday 5 July 2017
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/sweden-music-festival-men-female-only-bravalla-rape-sexual-assault-emma-knyckare-a7824366.html
Advertisements

Why Islam Ahmadiyyat?

SSblog

Why Islam Ahmadiyyat?

By Samina Silver, Redbridge North

Yes, I was a Zionist Jew

And I hated Muslims just like you

A Muslim man fell in the street

So I helped him to his feet

I picked up the Quran, his holy Book

Ask me why, I would never look

Some Israelis were offended and said I was bad

No, the hate you have is very sad

 

I decided that day this was not for me

Leave me alone now, let me be

I met an Ahmadi lady in the street

She asked me to come for something to eat

On that day Islam became the debate

Everyone is equal – was this my fate?

Islam Ahmadiyyat is so true

The Promised Messiah has come for me and you

 

I became an Ahmadi because it is true

And for my heart and soul nothing else will do

And who would have ever thought that this hateful Jew

Would one day go and become one of you

 

I wanted a sister and now I have one true

Samina Siddiqi, I love you

You’re honest, faithful and always true

And I strive to be a Muslim just like you

And all the Jamaat you are special too

I am proud to be among all of you

Beautiful, of the Creation of Allah

poem 4.1.png

By Qudsia Ward, Cornwall, UK

Beautiful, of the creation of Allah, are diamonds.

Diamonds are carbon – carbon is in all life forms; essential!

Diamonds are transparent, crystal, bright and clear.

Diamonds are lustrous, reflecting and refracting light into a myriad colours.

Hard and strong, diamonds mark and shape materials around them.

Diamonds are beautiful; diamonds are valuable.

Beautiful among the servants of Allah are Lajna Ima’illah.

Lajna are women – essential for all Jamaat life.

Almighty Allah, the Effacer of sins, make each one of us clear, pure, transparent as crystal.

Make each Lajna member beautiful reflecting Your light, Your Magnificence, Your Beauty.

Almighty Allah, the Fashioner, enable Lajna together shape and mark our community in the best of ways.

Omnipotent Allah, the Protector, guard and protect all Lajna Ima’illah members and enable them to enhance their value and serve Thee, fulfilling the purpose of their creation.

A Diamond Permeating the Soul

flower-lily-lilium-candidum-madonna-lily

By Rashida Nasir, Aldershot, UK

Suffragettes and Amelia Hart
What is it that sets them apart?
Pioneers of their time
Raising the status of womankind.

No right to vote?
No equal pay?
How absurd
In the modern day!

Yet 1400 years ago
Islam emerged with an eternal light
Respecting women
And honouring their rights

While the world trudged on
With its ups and downs
Rays of peace
Began to spread around

Under the spiritual guidance
Of the Promised Messiah
The rope of Khilafat
A yearning, a desire

Uniting us all
To strive and deliver
The pledge of Lajna
To grow and empower

Gain knowledge and share
The treasures we find
The physical, the mental
The spiritual entwined

A diamond in the rough
But polish and behold
The strength and the brilliance
Permeating the soul

Lajna Ima’illah
A diamond jubilee
60 years’ blessings
May we continue to succeed!

Ameen

My Veil of Confidence

Untitled.png

By Riyya Ahmad, age 13, Aldershot, UK

Islam has suffered from false allegations about the veiling of Muslim women for centuries. The media portrays the veil, or hijab, to be a restriction on Muslim women when it is really an act of modesty.

It is one of the most misunderstood concepts of Islam. Society believes that women who cover their heads, and wear modest clothes somehow have little freedom and are not able to express who they are. In fact, the very opposite is true. My veil actually inspires me with confidence in my day to day life.

If one looks with a deeper gaze on this subject, it will be found that the veiling of women is not something that Islam has introduced. The previous revealed scriptures also contain traces of similar teachings and Islam came only to complete and perfect them. It is a complete honour to follow in the footsteps of such a pious lady, Mother Mary (Hazrat Maryam) who is always depicted as having her head covered.

The Holy Quran says:

“O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your shame, and to be an elegant dress;…” (7:27)

Islam provides guidance for a peaceful, harmonious and logical way of life.  You will find that the hijab is a means of protecting women, and providing them with freedom from many social ills and it is a blessing for them. The word “purdah” is also used to describe the concept and the practice of hijab. The Holy Quran has laid down that, one of the methods men and women are to use to achieve that goal is hijab. It says in the Holy Quran:

“Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts…” (24:31)

And then women are addressed:

“And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head covers over their bosoms…” (24:32)

Living in western society, it is inevitable to be asked why I wear my hijab and how my veil inspires me. And every time, my answer remains the same; it makes me who I am. It is a part of my identity. Without it I would not be as confident as I am today. It protects me, while still letting me do the daily tasks I desire to do. The veil is my spiritual way of gaining closeness to Allah the Almighty and my faith.

Thus the question follows: do you ever feel constrained by your veil? I reply, “If my hijab restricted me from being out and about like you, then yes my hijab would constrain me. If my hijab limited me from achieving the education we all have a right to, then yes my hijab would constrain me. But if I am out and about alongside you, and I am building an educational career to the same level as you, then you tell me, does my hijab constrain me?

My veil is not just an ordinary cloth draped around my head, it is my respect, my dignity, my honour, my faith and my blessing from Allah the Almighty, surrounding me as I go confidently in the direction I desire.

What Does Peace Mean To Me?

IMG-20170920-WA0006

Zile Huma Ahmad, Southfields, London

As I sit here thinking about the upcoming International Day of Peace I ask myself: what does peace mean to me? Do we achieve peace by buying t-shirts, mugs and going to peace concerts? These actions no doubt have good and noble intentions but a real difference cannot be made without individual change and new attitudes.

Firstly, before one can begin to create peace in the world, they must be at peace with their own desires and ambitions. Inner peace can be defined as having a balance in one’s life and with the world around them. This includes having the correct balance between the material and spiritual aspects of life. When a person is sure that they pose no threat or danger to anyone they meet they can begin to create peace, even if it is only on a small scale.

However, in order for someone to create true, impactful and lasting peace from a religious perspective they require the help and guidance of the Creator. According to the Quranic concept of peace, no peace on earth can be conceived by human effort alone. So, in Islam, the journey to peace in the world begins with the attainment of peace with your Lord the Creator; for this we must understand His attributes. God is portrayed as the embodiment of perfect goodness in almost all religions. They all teach that God is: True, Compassionate, Just, Merciful, Loving and Forgiving. God has created human beings in accordance with His attributes and peace means a balance between God’s attributes and those of man albeit on a human level.

Truthfulness is the most important attribute in attaining peace with oneself. If you become true to yourself, only then can you be true to your children, your spouse, your relatives, your friends and the wider society. This single factor can make a huge difference on a wider scale as well. Nations becoming truthful and just towards each other is the only way to attain lasting peace.

I abide by the slogan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Love for All Hatred for None and aspire to practice it. If all of us follow these inspiring words in our day to day lives then world peace can be achieved once and for all.

 

Islam Empowers Women

IslamempowersblogLajna.png

Ayesha Mahmood Malik, Hampshire

Imagine it is the 7th century. Camels and horseback dot the Arabian sands that continue to sprawl endlessly into the horizon. Desert dwellers use basic oils or the friction from rubbing stones to light wood to warm themselves in the desert chill and also use these fires as stoves. Tales of lands far away abound, including China wherefrom come garments of silk to wear. Deep in the desert shrills of female infants being buried alive cloud the barren landscape. To be woman or cattle are one and the same. The society is not only starkly primitive but also the archetype of patriarchy.

Thus, for the 21st century scholar and thinker, it is an era that both captures the imagination with its mystic scents of Arabian ouds but also one that sends one gasping in so far as it belies any affiliation to modernity, human rights and importantly, women’s rights. Into this beleaguered state, dawns the advent of a man who brings the revolution of monotheism and women’s rights. Into this primeval and crude infrastructure, he introduces the notions of government, rules of war and principles of equality and non-discrimination. And into the incessant history of the persecution of Arabian women, he brings for women the right to marry freely, the right to seek education and the right to inherit and initiate divorce.

This radical new faith is called Islam. Its rules are universal, thereby bringing within its ambit all peoples’ who choose to take the oath of allegiance to its founder, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Its rules are also revolutionary in so far as they grant women the right to seek education, the right to initiate divorce and the right to inherit property. It also grants women full control over their own earnings. In other parts of the world, these rights remain largely unheard of, until many hundreds of years later. Paradoxically, when these rights begin to dawn in what is considered the modern world, Islam is castigated as being regressive, illiberal and oppressive to women.

In Britain, the right to divorce for example was up until 1857 largely open to men and required an Act of Parliament to be decreed. This being an onerous and expensive process, it also meant divorce was open largely to the wealthy. The 1857 Matrimonial Clauses Act granted ordinary people the right to divorce for the first time. Even then, women seeking divorce on grounds of adultery had to prove their husbands had been unfaithful along with proving additional faults such as rape and incest. In contrast, women were able to seek divorce without the burden of fulfilling arduous conditions by placing the merits of their case before a qadi (judge).

Similarly, it was not as late as 1870 when the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in England that women became legal owners of their income and were given the right to inherit. John Stuart Mill in his “The Subjection of Women” describes the predicament of women in the 19th century in these words, he writes:

“[T]he wife is the actual bond servant of her husband… She can acquire no property for herself: the instant something becomes hers, even if by inheritance, it automatically becomes his. In this respect the wife’s position under the common law of England is worse than that of slaves in the laws of many countries.”

Under Islamic law on the other hand, women enjoyed the right to inherit 1200 years before Mill put ink to paper. Even today, a Muslim woman is the sole master of her own earnings and is not obliged to spend any of her personal income towards the upkeep of her household, the entire responsibility whereof rests on the man.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the empowerment of women in Islam is the emphasis it places on their right to seek education. This commandment encouraging the pursuit of knowledge is 1400 years old and entirely gender neutral. It was a Muslim woman, Fatimah al-Fihri, who founded one of the world’s oldest universities in 859 CE. In contrast, British universities opened their doors to women as late as 1876. Women have played key roles in various capacities throughout Islamic history, from the women who partook in battle in the 7th century by tending to wounded soldiers to the Prophet (peace be upon him)’s wife Hazrat Khadija who was a successful tradeswoman.

Today, the question of empowerment of Muslim women is largely seen as an oxymoron owing to the misplaced practices in the Muslim-majority world that have chosen to use the Islamic faith as a political tool and fashioned their own virulent interpretation of the religion that has no bearing to its original form. As a hijab-wearing Muslim woman I find no contradiction between the question of my empowerment and my identity as a Muslim. By recognising and appreciating the differences between men and women as unique, women are not measured against men as standard bearers but rather celebrated for their own inimitable contributions to society. This distinctive point of view provides the single most powerful means of making a woman feel empowered and is exclusive to the Islamic faith.

 

Ofsted and Hijabs: Truth Unveiled

InstagramCapture_1c72b3e7-0817-49a4-aa5e-dad6349a88db.jpg

Sarah Waseem, London

I read with some surprise and concern that a group headed by former Parliamentary candidate Amina Lone, is planning to meet with Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Schools to discuss the “unacceptable rise of the hijab in state funded primary schools”.

In a rather convoluted letter, the group argue that primary schools, by allowing young girls to wear the hijab are in some way sexualising them and denying them gender equality. Interestingly, they seem not to have any concerns about the sexualising of young Jewish boys wearing the kippah, or young Sikh boys wearing the patka. Also, the fact that most primary school do not include dresses or skirts for boys in their uniform policy does not seem to present concerns for them regarding the ‘sexualising’ of boys.

It is correct that Islamic teachings do not require young girls to wear a head covering until they reach puberty, apart from when they are performing Prayers. However, the reality is that girls mature at different rates, with some starting menarche at primary school. Therefore, a general ban on hijabs in Primary School would hinder these girls from practicing their faith.

The covering of the head by adult Muslim women is clearly mandated in the Holy Qur’an, in chapter 24 verse 32 or in some editions verse 31. The group argue that some Muslim countries pressurise women to “cover up”. However, many of these countries have also allowed extremist versions of Islam to flourish. They have appalling human rights records including religious discrimination against other faiths, AND other sects of Islam, notably Shias and Ahmadi Muslims. This is nothing to do with the hijab or the suppression of women’s rights but is politically motivated to achieve the dominance of one group over another.

For the authors to refer to the horrific treatment of Yazidis by so called Islamic State, in the context of Primary Schools allowing the hijab as part of their uniform policy is just inexcusable. The majority of the Muslim world has repeatedly condemned the actions of so called Islamic State and distanced themselves from them. For example, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad has repeatedly warned about the dangers of international governments supporting extremist groups through their funding of weapons.  Wearing a hijab does not turn Muslims into terrorists and murderers!

The authors disingenuously link FGM to Islam when the overwhelming evidence shows that this practice is not permitted according to the teachings of Islam. Moreover, FGM is a terrible practice that is also prevalent in certain Christian and pagan societies.   The authors also disingenuously allude to an association between Islam, child sexual exploitation and forced marriages. I challenge them to produce references from the Holy Qur’an  to support any of these allegations.

I find it sad that once again, Islamic practises are being attacked in such a sensationalist way by focusing on women, the very section of society that the authors seem to want to ‘empower’.

Wearing the hijab does not disadvantage girls and women in any way. I invite the authors of this letter to meet with ladies from our Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, doctors, teachers, business women, health professionals, lawyers, all of whom lead fully integrated lives in society and wear the hijab.

 

* Edited for correction on 11/09/2017

 

Women In Islam: A Twenty-first Century Perspective

womeninislam.png 

 Munazzah Chou, Farnham

With the advent of Islam, the status of women in Arabia was raised from that of objects deserving of live burial, or as commodity to be treated or even traded as desired. Their rightful status was restored to the religious equal to their male counterparts and Islamic law made the education of girls a sacred duty and gave women amongst other rights the right to own and inherit property and wealth.

The status of Muslim women in the 21st century has not changed since the advent of Islam in the 7th century. God has pronounced in the Holy Qur’an,

‘But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone.’ (4:125)

Numerous other Quranic verses leave no ambiguity of the equal spiritual status of the sexes.

The spiritual status is the most important indicator of parity between sexes for Muslims as the Quran states that though different people appoint various objectives for their lives, the purpose that God Almighty has specified in His Holy Word is

‘…that they may worship Me.’ (51: 57).

According to this verse the true purpose of human life is the worship and understanding of God Almighty and devotion to Him.

21st century Muslim women cannot be considered a single entity. The Muslim woman is characterised by many as an oppressed victim deprived of the most basic rights. This might be the obvious conclusion on observing the treatment of women by ISIS, Boko Haram and some courts in Muslim countries. Yet at the opposite end of the spectrum, Muslim women have reached the pinnacle of political participation in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The realities of Muslim women’s lives range from being powerless and deprived of human and religious rights, to enjoying equal and sometimes more freedom and legal protection than non-Muslim women in the developed world. The contradictory developments and diversity in practices among Muslim societies, must urge one to question the assumption that Islam is the source of oppression.

The spectrum of the condition of Muslim women in the 21st century mirrors the continuum found within and between all society. The universal reality is that women face a gender gap. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index assessing health, education, economy and politics disparities has revealed that progress is ‘still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.’

Unfortunately, Muslim women seem to be worst affected as Muslim countries make up 23 of the bottom 25 countries with the widest gender gaps. The challenges women face in the Muslim world are often enshrined in archaic laws and practices on ownership, education, healthcare, job opportunities and wages which are ironically in violation of Islamic teachings on women’s rights.

In education the gender gap remains large, relative to most other major religious groups, although some progress has meant it has narrowed in recent generations. Muslim women have made greater educational gains than Muslim men in most regions of the world, according to the Pew Research Centre. Illustrative cases include United Arab Emirates, where women enrol in university at three times the rate of men and Saudi Arabia, where the university gender gap was closed ten years ago, and university enrolment rate is higher than in China, India, or Mexico.

Studies to understand the gap in political participation in Muslim-majority countries show that major cross-national differences in the extent of the gender gap cannot be explained by levels of ‘state Islamisation’, modernisation or societal gender equality. We are well aware that even in developed countries such as the UK, there are many barriers preventing women from entering politics unrelated to faith.

Nevertheless leaders in Muslim countries might wish to remind themselves of the dictates of Islam prescribed to ensure equity for Muslim women. Just as in the 7th Century, modern day women have the right to and are expected to pursue education. As evidenced in hadith, the pursuit of knowledge is a duty on every Muslim, male and female and the contribution of women in theological learning was affirmed when the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said that half of faith can be learned from his wife Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with Her)

Fathers and husbands have been charged with responsibility for the adequate provision for females to a standard which is equal to their own. It ought to follow then that in patriarchal societies in particular, there is no scope for suboptimal provision of services for women. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) said that the best amongst the believers are those who are best in morals, and the best in morals are those who are best in treatment of their wives. He has also said that taking good care of a daughter opens the door to Paradise for a Muslim. In his final sermon, he counselled

“O people, you have rights over your wives and your wives have rights over you. Remember, you must always treat your wives with kindness. Woman is weak and cannot protect her own rights. When you married, God appointed you the trustees of those rights. You brought your wives to your homes under the Law of God. You must not, therefore, insult the trust which God has placed in your hands.”

The 21st century reality is that Muslim women are fighting to overcome inherent, discriminatory attitudes prevalent in all levels of society just as all women are, within the cultural context they find themselves. Muslim women are doing this not on the grounds of the secular rally for women’s equality but based on a right Islam has given.

Yet her greater fight is the 14 century-old struggle to achieve her life’s purpose through the recognition of God. Every individual continues this struggle within the constraints of her society, financial situation, family and personal capabilities. As God has comforted –

‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity…’ (2:287)

Her definition of success is her personal relationship with God – she may achieve this whilst serving as a leader wielding immense political power, but equally as a daughter who discharges her obligations to her parents, or as mother who fulfils the dues of her children.

Motherhood is a relevant subject of discussion for women in every century. In the UK while 74% of women recognise motherhood as a full time career, over 70% of mothers work. The factors driving this picture are many of which economic reasons are foremost. The drive to get women in to work waxes and wanes in sync with perceived economic need by governments. But Islam assigns a position of great honour to a mother which is unchanging. The love and devotion due to parents, and especially to the mother, are repeatedly stressed in the Holy Quran:

“We have enjoined on man kindness towards his parents…” (29:9)

and by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Paradise lies at the feet of your mothers.”

The paradise mentioned refers to both the societal paradise that can be achieved and the heavenly Paradise. Islam recognises the unique position of women in their ability to nurture valuable future denizens of the world and in this recognition has placed mothers above fathers.

 

References

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/27/the-muslim-gender-gap-in-educational-attainment-is-shrinking/

Hilde Coffé, Selin Dill, The gender gap in political participation in Muslim-majority countries. International Political Science Review Vol 36, Issue 5, 2015

 

My Jalsa Salana Down the Years

Screenshot (186)

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK

As long as I can remember there have been three occasions every year that I have almost always attended; there are the two Eid days which our UK community used to celebrate together and there is Jalsa Salana, the Annual Convention. Eid now takes place regionally or locally but Jalsa has not only remained as one national event, it has grown over the years until now a mini town springs up in the Hampshire countryside to accommodate 35,000 plus attendees.

Before Hadeeqatul Mahdi became its home, Jalsa took place for many years at Islamabad in Tilford, near Farnham. I would travel there with my family by coach or car and if we were late and had to park near the gate we’d lament the ‘long’ walk to the marquee; now the memory makes us laugh as the current marquee area, the Jalsa arena, is bigger than the whole of Islamabad and transport is a park and ride system from a different site!

Jalsa has always been an event which, due to its three full days of speeches, congregational Prayers and a sense of separation from the world, has an intense effect of spiritual rejuvenation and reaffirmation of one’s faith. The congregational pledge taken at the hand of His Holiness the Khalifa is an annual experience that shakes one to the core.

One bonus of Jalsa is meeting up with family and friends you would not otherwise see regularly from different parts of the country and the world. There have been years when every single room in our house, except the bathroom, had guests sleeping in it, including a line of mattresses set up in the front room for all the male guests, a line I have had to tiptoe across just to reach the fridge when returning in the early hours from working at Jalsa! It is hectic but the year Jalsa was cancelled due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease felt so lonesome as if we were missing out on a part of our life.

Other than family we have had guests that we didn’t know; one year a mother and daughter from Kababir stayed with us. Many years later the youngest daughter married and came to live in the area leading to an emotional reunion despite the fact she herself hadn’t been on that Jalsa trip with the rest of her family. It is a wonderful feeling that Jalsa brings you together with people you would not otherwise meet.

Another bonus of Jalsa is the opportunity to become part of the vast team of volunteers that help to run such a large event. Whether it is jobs such as stage design, camera work, hospitality, car park attendant or cooking, it is volunteers who carry out the work. Imagine cooking lunch and dinner for 30,000 people – all those onions and potatoes to chop and fresh roti (flatbreads) to make in hot kitchens in the middle of summer! Like all the other volunteers they receive no monetary reward but do this work purely to gain the pleasure of God.

It is the same for the army of children who cheerfully patrol the marquees with fresh water to quench the thirst of guests; their eagerness and smiles make one take a cup of water with or without thirst which leaves the children happy.

I’ve never worked in the kitchens at Jalsa but I have worked in a variety of other jobs, for example cleaning, setting up guest accommodation areas, hospitality and food stalls. I drove golf buggies transporting guests for three years in weather ranging from hot sunshine resulting in strange tan lines on my feet, to wet mud and freezing nights with the cold wind rushing through the open buggy leaving me chilled to the bone.

One particular Monday I was driving guests to catch their coaches to London after the Jalsa; it was my fifth day of working long hours and exhaustion was threatening to make an appearance. One family from USA asked me who our Lajna (women’s association) president was and when I told them they said they wanted to write to her to say thank you for the Lajna members working tirelessly and cheerfully to look after them. My exhaustion receded and I was thankful to be among those that had cared for Jalsa guests and sent them home happy.

This year my Jalsa has already begun by sending invitations to non-Muslim friends and contacts to join us and experience Jalsa. As well as that I have been planning for the Jalsa days, both the work I’ll be doing, guests that will stay with me and shopping. Supplies including sunscreen, wellies in case of rain and crisps have become family necessities!

However this Jalsa turns out I know I will be storing up more memories of my Jalsa experience.