The Significance of Gender Segregation at Jalsa Salana

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By Navida Sayed, Hounslow, UK

Every year thousands of Ahmadi Muslims flock to Jalsa Salana UK (the Annual Convention) in Alton, Hampshire. The aim of the event for the members of the community is to attain spiritual advancement, unite in universal brotherhood and promote peace. Many guests attend for whom a salient feature of the convention is the segregation of the sexes. The separation of Muslim men and women at religious gatherings can be perplexing, misunderstood and sometimes difficult to accept especially in Western society.

Segregation of the sexes exists in all spheres of society including schools, hospitals, prisons, members clubs, workplaces and gyms. Yet when Muslims uphold the same principle it is seen as a medieval sign of the oppression and subjugation of women. Unfortunately some misconceptions are due to atrocities and injustices against women inflicted by bigoted extremists. To make matters worse, the negative biased and sensationalised stories about women in Islam plague the media. Taken together this creates a public narrative that there is a need to rescue and liberate Muslim women from the clutches of the faith of Islam.

In any workforce employees happily comply with company regulations in order to keep safe and protect their rights. Disregard or disobedience could result in disciplinary action or even termination of employment. Likewise practicing Muslims are expected to understand and obey the teachings of Islam, which is the faith of their choice. The commandments of Islam for both men and women to observe Purdah (veiling as a mindset) are for the betterment of society. This does not necessitate that teachings of Islam are out-dated and in need of reform.

For Ahmadi Muslims the separation of men and women during prayers and religious events has always been the norm and stems from Islamic teachings relating to Purdah. Many individuals may be completely unaware that males were the first to be instructed in the Qur’an to lower their gaze. Being aware of men’s weak innate nature, God also commanded women to cover themselves as a preventative measure. In Islam a woman is not regarded as a sex object and is free from exploitation and harassment.

Those who strongly oppose gender segregation on the grounds that both genders are being deprived of each other’s company are not aware Islam upholds the belief that intimate relationships should be confined to the private domain of marriage only. The separation of the sexes in mosques and religious gatherings is a preventive measure both for men and women to maintain the highest standards of good behaviour, dignity, self-restraint, modesty and purity.

The separate spaces are for their own comfort and ease where they do not have to cover up and where they can relax and reap the benefits of attending religious gatherings. Religious settings and gatherings such as the Jalsa Salana are not places of social hangout rather the prime focus is to reap spiritual benefits through prayers and listening to the speeches.

Sitting separately from men at community events or wearing the Hijab, does not restrict a Muslim woman’s role. She is encouraged to seek education and is not restricted to pursue a professional career. Ahmadi Muslim women excelling in highest standards of academic achievement can be witnessed in the award ceremony on the second day of Jalsa. Muslim women have all the rights that Muslim men enjoy, and in some ways, have certain privileges, which men do not enjoy. In a recent survey amongst 323,500 American adults, 56% of working mothers with children under the age of 18 said they would prefer to stay at home and take care of their house and family. A Muslim woman has the right and choice to stay at home and raise the children and for her husband to shoulder the financial responsibility for family. Another privilege is that a Muslim man has absolutely no right to demand anything from his wife’s income, property or wealth and Islam gives her the right to spend it as she wishes.

At the Jalsa Salana we welcome all interested in discovering the true teachings of Islam including the treatment and rights of women. Islam has granted women a position of dignity and honour and was the first religion to formally grant women a status never known before. The moral, spiritual and economic equality of men and women as propagated by Islam is unquestionable.

At Jalsa special guided tours are offered and female guests have the option of visiting the women’s area too. Leading some of the tours over the years, I found the reactions of the female guests were always the same. Whilst walking across there would be an air of silence, suspense and a few questions amongst the groups. Upon entering the ladies arena the guests were astounded, some politely commenting that they expected to see only be a few women behind a curtain in a small space. Of course the prime question always arises, why do we sit separately?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community made life easier for its members especially for women to enable them to have recognition through their own women’s organisation known as the Lajna Ima’illah. Ahmadi Muslim women around the world have their own mosque areas, offices and at Jalsa Salana an entire ladies arena to themselves.

The women’s organisation works alongside their male counterparts under the direct guidance of the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his helper and guide).

If anyone still considers that Ahmadi Muslim women are regarded inferior to men because of the segregation all they need to ask is who does the cooking? The answer people maybe expect is the women as there certainly would be no shortage of female participants at the Jalsa. In reality meals cooked over the course of the three day event for thousands of guests attending the Jalsa are all prepared by men, including peeling hundreds of bags of onions and potatoes, cooking and washing the gigantic pots and pans in very hot working conditions. Men could say that this is unfair on them, but they never complain and take on the task voluntarily and happily to serve the guests of Jalsa Salana. Likewise the men do all the cleaning and all of the heavy work.

At Jalsa the women also have the privilege of being addressed by the spiritual Head of the community Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahamd directly in their own gathering on the second day of the convention when he also awards female students for their academic achievements. The Lajna Ima’illah (women) have office bearers and teams of women in all departments such as health & safety, security, registration, administration, press & media, audio visual, camera crew, Voice of Islam radio, hospitality, Humanity First, discipline, first aid, exhibitions and much more. All the women are volunteers and at Jalsa Salana the volunteers comprise academics, professionals and housewives working in unison with the men all united as one. As Ahmadi Muslim women, we have absolutely no problem with the segregation, rather it is a source of great freedom and success for us. Furthermore segregation applies equally to men as it does to women, so any question of inferiority cannot apply for both are bound by this rule in equal measure.

We invite all female guests attending the convention to visit us on the ladies side and witness for themselves women leading women. Within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we are well aware and educated about our rights in Islam. The men in the community are also reminded about their womenfolk’s rights. One of the beautiful aspects of Islamic teaching is that by defining the role of women in society, and then by giving dignity to that role, it makes women feel fulfilled, empowered, respected and liberated. As Ahmadi Muslim women who experience this at first hand we can vouch for the wisdom and benefits of this teaching, as the independence we gain from segregation is a source of great strength.

 

A True Khalifa And His People

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Maleeha Mansur, Hayes, UK

Turning fear into peace

Every evening in the suburbs of Surrey, two to three dozen families emerge from a humble office – some with tears of joy flowing down their faces, others mesmerised and still absorbing the moments they have just had the fortune to witness. Whilst this incredibly special and faith-inspiring experience lasts only a few minutes, yet it leaves a deep and lasting impression on them. Whether it be a child, a man, woman, academic, professional or a retired elder – all unanimously vow to strive to surrender worldly pursuits, for a most noble cause – to attach themselves with God and to serve His Creation. What could bring about such a revolution within a few moments? What lies behind the doors of this humble office? A Man of God – the fifth Khalifa and supreme head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his Helper).

Whilst these humble followers may have spent only a few minutes in the presence of the Khalifa, the personality they encounter is so overpowering with love and righteousness that it is able to transform them in extraordinary ways and turns their fears into peace.

Love like no other

This love certainly is a two-way phenomenon but it is ever so imbalanced. Despite, the pinnacle of love the Khalifa’s followers have for him, collectively it still only equates to a drop in the ocean as compared to the love of the Khalifa for his people. Certainly, this true Khalifat has no parallel. As so lovingly stated by the Khalifa,

‘there is no problem, be it of the Community or of someone’s private life of which the Khalifa of the time is not aware, for which he does not make practical efforts and does not turn to God to pray!’[i]

The Khalifa once humbly explained that

‘there is no country in the world that I do not go to in my imagination before falling asleep and for whom I do not pray while sleeping and while waking. I am not saying this to count favours, no, this is my duty and may Allah the Exalted make me perform my duty more than ever.’[ii]

Certainly, no other leader exhibits such concerns and love for each and every aspect of his following.

On his tours around the globe, the sentiments of love are repeated in each and every continent of the world. In Africa, women run along the car of the Khalifa with their young children in their arms, desperately drawing their child’s attention to the Khalifa so that they might see the Khalifa. In Canada, young boys choose to happily wait for hours in the freezing cold with their fathers that they may gain a glimpse of their beloved Khalifa, boldly stating “…we have to see Huzoor [the Khalifa] no matter cold, no matter rain, no matter anything”.

It is a peculiar love, with no resemblance or parallel. Certainly, this love cannot be instilled by people, it is God alone Who can create such love, as God Almighty says it is He who

“…has put affection between their hearts. If thou hadst expended all that is in the earth, thou couldst not have put affection between their hearts, but Allah has put affection between them.’[iii]

 Charismatic persona

One could say the love and awe-inspiring personality of the Khalifa conjures feelings which could be explained as addictive, once one experiences the company of the Khalifa, one yearns for more. Certainly this is true not only of his followers but of individuals unaware of the wonders they are to encounter when meeting the Khalifa. On his tour of Australia, a photographer of the Daily Telegraph happened to have the opportunity to photograph the Khalifa whilst covering an interview with His Holiness, but afterwards he asked to return and photograph the Khalifa further, for no reason other than that he found the blessed face of the Khalifa “extremely beautiful and radiant and so simply wished to take more photos of him.”[iv]

Time, and time again, we see academics and politicians giving advance notice that due to their prior commitments they will have to leave gatherings with the Khalifa early but are compelled to stay once in the company of the Khalifa due to the love and spirituality they experience. That is, despite the Khalifa himself reminding them of their other engagements. On his visit to the Canadian Parliament, two Parliamentary events due to take place that evening were cancelled because many MPs indicated they did not wish to miss the Khalifa’s address to Parliament.

Not a second unsacrificed

One may wonder, how does a person with followers in tens of millions, spread in over 200 countries, have such a deep and meaningful relationship with each and every one. This relationship and communication takes many forms. At a glimpse – the Khalifa delivers weekly Friday Sermons broadcast globally via the community’s 24 hour satellite channel, as well as multiple additional addresses each month at various occasions, such as religious celebrations, annual conventions of the community, mosque inaugurations and other ceremonies. The Khalifa holds classes with the youth of the community who openly enquire about matters of religion, academia and even those personal to the Khalifa which he graciously answers in depth. Daily, the Khalifa leads a congregation of followers in the five daily Prayers, responds to thousands of letter from his followers and holds family meetings open to all members of the community as well as office meetings to address various issues pertaining to the community and its mission. His tours around the globe enable distant followers to meet their beloved Khalifa, and so, despite being a worldwide leader, the Khalifa is in tune with his followers like no other. With such a packed schedule, one humbly observes that certainly this is a Divinely inspired individual, whose every iota is wholly dedicated to his mission.

Certainly, the Khalifa is an embodiment of unparalleled selfless leadership. Hence, it is no wonder that the Khalifa’s followers proudly announce their dedication to him; for they know with certainty that their dedication is to none other than the ‘rope of Allah’, a living epitome of fulfilment of one’s obligations to God and to Mankind.

 

[i] Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad on 6th June 2014

[ii] Friday Sermon delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad on 6th June 2014

[iii] The Holy Qur’an Chapter 8: Verse 64

[iv] Huzoor’s Tour of Australia 2013 A Personal Account Part 1, by Abid Khan, pp. 21-22

Caliphate or Khilafat?

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 Munazzah Chou, UK

The concept of caliphate is the idea of leadership of Muslim society according to the will of God. Many Muslims have embraced the argument that such an institution is the best way of ordering society but the form it should take has been interpreted in many ways. Western writers have referred to caliphate as a ‘many-splendored’ concept, about which ‘there is no one way, no single template or legal framework’ by which to define it. They cite caliphs through history of many different sorts; warrior caliphs, pious caliphs, intellectual caliphs, pleasure-loving caliphs, incompetent caliphs, cruel and tyrannical caliphs. Some suggest that the ‘interpretations of what constitutes a legitimate caliph are so loose that it’s surprising how few caliphates have been declared…’ They suggest that this can be explained by the fact that any declaration would have been ‘Pythonesque in its deluded grandeur.’ That ISIS held control of as much territory as Hadhrat Abu Bakr, the first Rightly-Guided Caliph—the claim to Caliphate made by Baghdadi looks far more credible and the ‘mass executions and public crucifixions have also done much to erase any lingering aura of comedy.’

Caliphate is an English term which may well be nebular or ambiguous but the concept of khilafat, the original Arabic word, in the true Islamic sense has specific application. The Holy Quran refers to khilafat as a favour from God. The Holy Quran lays emphasis on the moral and spiritual requirement for the believers to receive the favour of khilafat. Much of our understanding of khilafat is based on the following Quranic verse:

‘Allah had promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth [khalifas], as He made Successors from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security and peace after their fear: They will worship Me, and they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious.’ (Surah Al-Nur, Verse 56)

In this verse, the Holy Quran presents the institution of khilafat as a reward for collective piety, i.e. to ‘those who believe and do good works’. Thus God’s promise to establish khilafat as a blessing for mankind is firmly rooted in the moral and spiritual condition of sincere believers. When these conditions are fulfilled they will be made the leaders of nations; their state of fear will give place to a condition of safety and security, Islam will reign supreme in the world, and above all the unity of God will become firmly established.

In the book of Ahadith, Musnad Ahmad by Imam Ahmad bin Hambal, there is a Hadith narrated by Hadhrat Huzaifa (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said:

‘Prophethood shall remain among you as long as God wills. Then khilafat on the pattern of prophethood will commence and remain as long as He wills. A corrupt monarchy shall then follow and it shall remain as long as God wills. There shall then be a tyrannical despotism which shall remain as long as God wills. Then once again khilafat will emerge on the precept of prophethood.’
[Masnad-­Ahmad, Mishkat, Chapter Al-Anzar Wal Tahzir].

In this Hadith, the promise of khilafat is connected with Prophethood on two separate occasions. In between the two eras of khilafat, the reference to “the corrupt/erosive monarchy” and “despotic kingship” is what we could term “caliphate” but not khilafat. The Arabic words showing the relationship between khilafat and Prophethood are “khilafat -ala- minhaj-e-nabuwwat”, that is, khilafat on the lines of Prophethood. This explains the principle of khilafat as a continuation of the mission of the Prophet i.e the objectives of khilafat and Prophethood remain the same; moral and spiritual development of mankind.

There is therefore, a clear distinction between khilafat and caliphate. Caliphate deals with civil and political domain of the rulers in Islamic history, but khilafat deals with moral, religious and spiritual leadership of mankind. Therefore, a political ruler who might be called “caliph” may not be a khalifa in the Quranic sense of the word.

Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and Mahdi (on whom be peace), described khilafat as a second manifestation of God’s power – the advent of Prophets being the first manifestation. This second manifestation is the time of the demise of Prophets of God when the enemy thinks that the followers of a Prophet are in disarray and the community will be destroyed, ‘then God manifests His strong hand of might and sustains the collapsing community.’

After the death of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (on whom be peace) in 1908, after a hiatus of 13 hundred years, the divinely-guided Khilafat in Islam re-emerged in accordance with the prophecies of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadAS. This, the Ahmadiyya Khilafat differs significantly from the ideas of some Muslim groups with misplaced aspirations of political dominance. The Ahmadiyya Khilafat is apolitical; purely spiritual and religious in nature. While other Muslims wait for a Mahdi who would wage a “bloody” Jihad against the infidels, the Ahmadiyya Khilafat upholds the motto of “Love for all, hatred for none” and expounds the true greater Jihad as that which entails overcoming sinful and immoral temptations of the self.

The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) has reassured us of the unending blessings of this divine institution,

‘You should therefore, neither grieve over what I have told you (that the hour of my demise is nigh) nor should you be heart-broken for it is mandatory that you see God’s second manifestation. The coming of that manifestation is a lot better for you because it is eternal whose succession will not terminate till the end of days. When I go, Allah will send to you the second manifestation and it will stay with you forever.’
(Al-Wassiyat, pp. 6-7)

May Allah enable us to continue with our endeavours to become deserving of this divine blessing. Ameen

 

References

Graeme Wood, What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants, https://newrepublic.com/article/119259/isis-history-islamic-states-new-caliphate-syria-and-iraq

The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 4, pp. 1869-1870.

Khilafat and Caliphate, Mubasher Ahmad, M.A., LL.B. https://www.alislam.org/topics/khilafat/khilafat-and-caliphate.pdf

 

Love for All, Hatred for None – The Power Of Words

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Sarah Khan, London

Everyone loves a good slogan. The holy grail of all marketing and advertising executives, a short phrase that will stick in the mind and be associated with their product or association. Some slogans are amusing little word plays, others become memorable for decades. Simply think ‘Just do it’ by Nike or ‘I’m lovin’ it’ by McDonalds. These are simple, effective messages that translate across cultures and languages becoming truly global in their reach. The key requirements of a good slogan are that they should be memorable, should send a positive message and should distinguish your ‘brand’ from others in the same field. But just sometimes, slogans come to mean something more, conveying something beyond the simple words they contain.

The growth of Twitter and social media has seen the rising power of the hashtag. Thousands, sometimes millions of people, rally behind a cause and show their solidarity through a shared expression. In recent years we have seen how hashtags have the power to fuel social change. #Icantbreath or #bringbackourgirls for example caught the attention of world leaders although they started from a grass roots level.

In the sphere of my life I have grown up with a slogan that was coined before the internet age; a simple message with a deep meaning and one which I hope translates into concrete behaviour and is not just words. The slogan ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ was coined by the third head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, while in Spain for the laying of the foundation stone of the Basharat Mosque. It was in response to concerns of the people there but also came at a time when the Community was facing severe persecution. Homes and businesses had been looted within Pakistan and the situation was dire with riots being held in many places and some Ahmadi Muslims losing their life in the calamities. Instead of taking forceful action or reacting to violence with physical force the then Khalifah urged all Ahmadi people to turn to prayer and it was in this atmosphere that the slogan took hold. During a need to find peace, to find spiritual strength at a time of trial, it was a unifying and beautiful beacon of hope shining in a time of fear and concern.

Since that time more than 40 years ago, the slogan has been adopted into the hearts of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It is displayed on banners and posters at all of our events whether they be in rural Africa or Urban America. It is emblazoned on badges, t-shirts, bumper stickers and much more. This slogan has come to serve two main purposes; it reminds Ahmadi Muslims to be correct in their approach to everyone and it serves to tell guests in a quick and digestible manner a fundamental core principle of our faith.

With the growth of extremism and terrorism, the impact of this slogan has become more pronounced upon visitors and guests who come across our Community. At peace forums and annual gatherings, the message makes a deep impression on people’s hearts and immediately indicates to them that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not of those creating unrest and violence in the world.   I have even seen this impact first hand.

A couple of years ago I was travelling to our annual convention in Hampshire by train from London. A man boarded the train along the route with his teenage companion. As he entered the carriage he looked around at the veiled women and Muslim men, many of whom sported beards. He swore loudly, claiming this wasn’t Iraq, and then continued down the train to another section. Within a few minutes he returned, face slightly downcast. He hadn’t realised that the train was full of similar people and he had nowhere to escape from them. He stood in front of me and my young children for several stops, looking uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how volatile he was and I did not want to provoke any disturbance so I kept quiet and he for his part uttered no further abuse. However, during that journey my children and I were wearing our I.D. badges with a neck chain emblazoned with the phrase ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ and I noticed this man observing people all around him sported these words in one form or the other. I don’t know what impact this slogan had upon that particular man but I know I felt relief and humble pride that I was wearing my badge that day. The slogan spoke for me and indicated my beliefs far better than any argument or confrontation could ever have done. I realised then the power of words to convey beauty through silence.

This is why you may see this slogan emblazoned on buses across the UK from time to time and from tomorrow on buses in Glasgow and other Scottish cities. The campaign focus is ‘United Against Extremism’ and it has been undertaken to publically declare our stand as Muslims against violence or extremism of any nature. In the wake of the tragic murder of Asad Shah last month, Scotland showed that it is indeed a place where communities can stand united against intolerance. The support of locals for the family and the neighbouring Ahmadi Community was heart-warming for those of us even in far-flung places of the globe to witness. When so many members of our Community live in fear of physical and verbal attacks due to their faith, the solidarity shown by the locals is an act of kindness which touches the hearts of many.

However, while the bus banners will only be around for a few weeks, we, as Ahmadi Muslims, hope that the true meaning of our slogan will continue long after the campaign. Speaking in 2014, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community said that the slogan ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ could ‘make it clear to the world that Islam teaches love, peace and kindness and it is not correct to associate cruelty and viciousness with the faith of Islam. We employ this slogan to signify that we wish to live together by breaking down walls of hatred. When we serve humanity in any way at all or when we disseminate the message of Islam we do so because we have love for every person in the world and we wish to remove hatred from each heart and instead sow the seeds of love[1]’.

With such a lofty ideal, and such a memorable slogan, backed by concrete actions there is a hope that Muslims and non-Muslims can indeed unite and put out the fires of extremism with the compassion of love.

[1] https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/printer-friendly-summary-2014-05-09.html