PART 1 – Convention
While a few thousand Ukrainians got down to business celebrating their culture in Vegreville over the weekend of July 6-8, nearly 20,000 Ahmadi Muslims were getting down, literally, to pray at the annual Jalsa (convention) just outside of Toronto at the same time in the name of Islam.
Recently, following a pair of stories published in the Vegreville Observer written by Rosanne Fortier upon presentations made at the Vegreville Centennial Library by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) and dialogue with Executive Director Rizwan Rabbani, the Observer was invited to Toronto to witness, from an outsider’s perspective, the convention.
A separate sect of Islam among the 73 known branches, the Ahmadi Muslims hold an annual convention in over 200 countries each year. In Canada this year, the spiritual leader for all Ahmadi Muslims, numbering an estimated 10 million, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the equivalent among Ahmadi Muslims to the Pope among Catholics, returned to speak at the Jalsa after a four-year period spent visiting other nations and attending other Jalsa’s.
The slogan if the Ahmadi, “Love for all, hatred for none,” hung on massive banners behind the front of the staging area where speakers delivered their messages. Two Muslim television stations taped and broadcasted the speeches to the world in real time.
Guest speakers at the Jalsa delivered speeches on interacting with non-Muslims, spoke of the need for religion in contemporary society, discussed Islam as a source of personal peace and also why the early years in a child’s life are most critical for mothers. “You are the child’s primary educator,” Mirza told women during his address on Friday afternoon. “Your lap is the first school they will know. It’s not enough to provide care, you must instill in them manners, early education and a love of the Holy Father to bring them closer to god.”
Awards of excellence are handed out as well. Mirza stood at the center stage and disbursed plaques recognizing excellence in academic fields, citizenship and service to the community. Boys from all ages strode across the platform to accept them, some stooping to kiss Mirza’s hand in a gesture of thanks and gratitude.
Many hands make light work
At the Jalsa, with its enormous attendance, an army of 6,000 volunteers (half men, half women) takes time off from work to coordinate the massive event. While many of the events that take place around Vegreville are the result of the hard work and sweat of a few dozen or even a hundred volunteers, the Jalsa takes the nearly the entire community of Ahmadi Muslims in the greater Toronto area to execute.