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.

The Significance of Gender Segregation at Jalsa Salana

Screenshot (506).png

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.

 

My Jalsa Memories

300px-IntlBaiat

by Mishal Aziz, Raynes Park, UK

As the summer term is coming to an end, many children and students are anticipating the holidays that they have planned so they can relax and regain the energy for the next school year. However, Ahmadiyya Muslim children and students have started to count the days for Jalsa Salana 2017. Every Ahmadi waits for these blessed days year after year; it is a time to get together and gain religious knowledge and develop a stronger bond among ourselves.

In my house, the Jalsa preparation started few weeks ago when me and my mum went for duty training at the mosque and my dad started visiting Hadeeqa tul Mahdi (Jalsa venue); it felt like Jalsa was just around the corner.

When I invited my friends who are not Ahmadi Muslims to Jalsa, they were quite confused as they had never heard of something like this before. I explained to them that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community holds an annual convention over of three days in which all people get together and enhance their religious knowledge. I showed them videos of Jalsa and they were astonished to see such a number of people attending the event. They also asked me if we hired any people to help us such as in serving food, but when I told them that thousands of people volunteer to give duties, they were quite stunned.

I shared my last Jalsa memories with them. I told them that I went to the venue a day before the Jalsa starts, I participated in duty and spent quality time with all my relatives that came from different cities. During the three blessed days of Jalsa, I put extra effort into performing Tahujjud Prayer (a voluntary Prayer offered in the night), tried to be extra nice and kind to everyone and listened to and followed the beautiful guidance given by the Khalifa (fifth successor of Promised Messiah).

My most special memory from last Jalsa was when I was standing on duty and His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community passed just behind me. That feeling is something that will stay with me forever; just the feeling that he was few steps away from me was the best part of my whole Jalsa memories. I still remember, I was shivering with delight and I had tears in my eyes and the most beautiful and satisfactory smile that I could ever have.

My favourite part of Jalsa is when we do Bai’at (Pledge of Allegiance) on the 3rd day, at the hand of the Khalifa. Such a large number of people connected physically and emotionally is not a sight that you see every day; you feel special that you are connected to such a blessed community. That few minutes are something that I always look forward to every year because they give me a chance to seek forgiveness of Allah and become a better person.

After relishing the memories through this article, I am quite excited and looking forward to this Jalsa.

Jalsa Salana Mubarak!

The Media Virus Against Islam

Virus

By Navida Sayed, London, UK

News about virus outbreaks resulting in major global pandemics always raises alarm and concern, Zika being the latest to hit the headlines. The current global IT and digital networks connecting the cyber world are also witnessing the rise of malicious software and Internet security threats. Other than biological and technical viruses, which most people are aware of, something else is lurking around. The latest newly emerging uncontained virus, without immunity or a cure in sight, is highly contagious and rapidly spiralling out of control contaminating vast parts of the population around the world – the media virus against Islam.

In the recent months, the world has witnessed a wave of atrocious, barbaric, terrorist attacks carried out wrongly in the name of Islam. Leading media outlets are cognizant of the fact that terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, yet their skewed negative media coverage against Islam acts as a powerful catalyst in promoting fear and feuds. The degree of antagonism and hatred against Muslims, as a result of bad press, has arguably reached new heights and peak negativity.

During any catastrophic incident, facts are often obscured by perceptions, but the assumptions and connections with Islam are distorted and blown out of proportion. The words Islamism, ‘Islamists, and Islamic terrorism, instantly diffuse via media outlets sparking anger, grief, fear, anxiety and hatred. These terms are innovations of the mass media and not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. The religion is Islam, and the followers are Muslims.

The impact of the media virus against Islam is affecting people from all walks of life to the extent where individuals instantly react without a pause for thought. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook is laden with hundreds of concoctions of racist, abusive, derogatory comments against Islam. The negative and offensive comments are shared across the board by enraged individuals who believe they have mastered the teachings of Islam; clearly and evidently they don’t know the first thing about Islam, and they are driven purely by negative media content about Islam.

The media virus feeds off the extremists by giving them the platform they are pining for; at the same time in the rat race to sell their story, the media create chaos and panic in society often resulting in knee jerk reactions by many individuals.   The most detrimental impact of the media virus has affected the most vulnerable people in society, and the world is witness to the fact that nearly all of the terrorist attacks committed in recent times were by individuals who hardly practiced Islam. The perpetrators of the attacks were persons going through some life crisis and angered by their situation, by individuals under the influence of drugs and alcohol or by people with a history of mental illness.

Sensationalism in journalism has always existed, but the irony is that now almost every media outlet reporter thinks he or she is an expert on Islam, featuring sensationalistic headlines and articles randomly citing cherry-picked verses or writing about topics without any knowledge or insight. Such reporters are not an authority on Islam but claim undisputedly accurate opinions about the faith. They recklessly report inaccurate facts and are responsible for inciting and instigating hate crimes, only to attract readers and increase sales.

The way to defeat the so-called Jihadists is not to fall prey to their motives for creating disorder and chaos in the world which is what we are witnessing as a story in the media is picked up by multiple sources, and the hatred amplifies across the board. The media virus propaganda and sensationalized negative accounts about Islam presented as truth and breaking news will damage society by creating great divisions and barriers.

Journalists need to take responsibility in combating extremism, not add fuel to the fire and cause unrest in society. They should be unbiased in an attempt to bring about incremental positive change to make the world a better place. Journalists and reporters have a duty towards the information they present to the public bearing their well being in mind.

Both biological viruses and cyber attacks on a global or minute scale are dealt with extreme efficiency and speed. Likewise, the media virus against Islam is also in need of a cure and immunity to contain it quickly so that the media world can focus on dealing with the real deadly threat of extremism in the world. The best way to defeat extremism is to stand united against it.

The worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Fifth Khalifa, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, said:

 “The early Muslims were only ever permitted to raise their swords in a defensive war when the opponents themselves physically raised their swords in an effort to eliminate Islam. However, in this era religious wars are not being physically fought against Islam but rather the media is being used to attack Islam and to misrepresent it. Thus, we must ourselves use the media to counter these attacks and inform the world of the true teachings of Islam.”

Regardless of the surge of hatred against Islam in the recent days, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association continues with life and preparations for the community’s 50th Annual celebration of Jalsa Salana UK. An annual international conference of a community, which encourages interfaith dialogue, advocates peace, tolerance, love and understanding among followers of different faiths. Our community firmly believes in and acts upon the Qur’anic teaching: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:257) We firmly reject violence and terrorism. Thousands are expected to attend the three-day International event in the suburbs of Hampshire. Our annual convention is not only a platform against extremism based on a jihad of love and not a jihad of the sword. It is a deeply spiritual and inspirational experience in an atmosphere, which radiates the tranquillity of love and message of peace.

The Jalsa Experience

DSC_0517 (3).JPG

 by Aalia Qureshi, London, UK

Thoughts of a Teenager

Once again, the dazzling, long-awaited season of summer among its incessant delights has at long last reached us.  Another year has passed us by in the blink of an  eye.  And this can mean only one thing for the Ahmadiyya Community; the blessed Jalsa Salana – Annual Convention – is finally upon us! The endless wait has finally come to an end! Along with the anticipation for the coming 3-day spiritual festivities comes an onslaught of charming childhood memories: from losing my family in the seemingly infinite, vast marquees to running gleefully on the enormous, green fields with friends and family.

The purposes for which our beloved Promised Messiah (as) asked us to hold an annual Jalsa Salana are indeed plentiful: they consist of social interaction – building ties of kinship and friendship with our fellow Ahmadi sisters and brothers; spiritual improvement – to better ourselves in terms of our closeness to God and dedication to our faith as well as intellect – to advance our knowledge of the morals, principles and reasoning surrounding not only Ahmadiyyat but the very world itself such as politics, environmental issues to name but a few.

Personally, my favourite part of this annual convention is the Pledge of Allegiance held at the very hand of our beloved Khalifa Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, on the third and final day. The sensation of being connected to the entire Community, hand to shoulder, is like no other; utterly extraordinary.   Moreover, the chorus of disparate languages unanimously translating our beloved Khalifa’s sacred words merges to form an otherworldly harmony and emanates an overwhelming sense of unity and devotion to Allah. Disparities overlooked, ethnicities disregarded, and hope of past sins forgiven we are all stripped down to our cores by his mere words: Ahmadi Muslims with one purpose – to worship Allah and lend a hand out to those in need of it for as long as we are on this Earth. The subsequent prostration following our renewal of faith is one of complete peace and harmony accompanied by a sense of rejuvenation and replenishment: a fresh start, a new beginning.

The notion that this entire convention is constructed with just the voluntary donations of us Ahmadis is absolutely astounding in view of the vast quantities of food prepared, the enormous amounts of provisions provided in addition to the intense manual labour put in for the ultimate Jalsa experience we all assuredly will receive. Even more so, the fact that our Jalsa Salanas are put together wholly by volunteers from the Community is outright phenomenal. Despite this, it would be naïve to lose sight of the fact that none of this would be feasible without the Grace and Help of Allah.   We should all be indebted to Allah for bequeathing upon us with all His Grace and Wisdom the power and strength to organise and carry out this wonderful Annual Convention.