By Staska Baric
Impression of Ms. Staska Baric who participated in 39th annual gathering (Jalsa Salana) of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community held from 13-15 June 2014 in Karlsruhe Germany
My name is Staška. I am Catholic and a practical believer. I received an exceptional and unique opportunity to attend the annual meeting of Jamaat in the city of Karlsruhe in Germany as an interreligious guest. I went there with a very few information about that relatively unfamiliar religious organization, with very few expectations and a bit sceptical about how it is all going to look, whether I will like it and will I fit in. What I experienced there was way over my expectations. So much hospitality, friendship and love is rarely seen in one place. Caring for the guests is at the highest level, I really felt like I am at home although my appearances differed from the appearances of the other women.
The annual gathering of the Jamaat, called Jalsa Salana, lasted for three days. The all days were quite content and fulfilled with various activities, but also enriched with invaluable interreligious experience. What I will sort out gladly is, primarily, the meeting with the spiritual leader of Jamaat, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Fifth Khalifa. Although he looks a little bit harsh on the photos, in reality he is incredibly patient, kind and a friendly man. His accessibility has encouraged us to ask him some questions. My colleagues from SUS (Slavonian Students’ Association) and I asked him why there is more and more people, especially youngsters, who are turning away from the religion, how to prevent that and how social networks and media help or hinder this trend of declining religiosity. We were also interested in what Muslims who are not Ahmadiyya think of Jamaat and if there is a lot of Muslims who join Jamaat. We also didn’t hesitate to ask some more “tricky” questions such as the position of the women in Islam and the negative image of Islam that was recently created in public due to the activities of the extremist groups. I was admired how the Khalifa was open and willing to answer all our questions, very gladly and thoroughly. It was very clear to me that his great desire was to show us that Islam is not a religion of hatred and exclusion, but a faith of peace (as its name says), charity, help and compassion for the needy people, and one the main tasks of the Ahmadiyya Muslims is to restore the faith in the goodness of Islam. Meeting with Khalifa was definitely an invaluable experience for me and I will always cherish it. Another insight to the world of Islam that I was also impressed by was the participation in nazam, or kneeling. During those 15 minutes of kneeling 16000 women breathed as one, with the absolute concentration to the words of the Imam and with the complete composure in prayer. Thereafter followed beautiful songs from Quran whose words quite reminded me of the words in Christian psalms.
How Ahmadiyya Muslims support the education of their members is best shown by the fact that the Khalifa personally presented special medals and plaques for young people who have gained diploma in faculty. What amazed me the most was, of course, an impressive number of women who, through their hard work and efforts, came to a university degree. On the last day of Jalsa Salana another interesting ceremony was held – the accession of new members in Jamaat. All newcomers gather around the Khalifa holding each other by the shoulder and pronouncing the oath, so called bajat. After the vows and the very emotional prayer they become full members of Jamaat.
I also had an incredible opportunity to give a short speech on the main stage and share my impression of the event with the large audience, as well as to describe the existing cooperation with the Humanity First, a humanitarian organization which operates within the Jamaat. Following, we had a very important meeting with the president of the Humanity First Germany to whom we talked about the possible continuation of cooperation in the project of providing assistance to flooded areas in Croatia.
Except for the official part, our hosts organized the tour around Karlsruhe, during which we visited a very interesting city museum. Afterwards we went to Heidelberg, a well-known university city, where we visited the Heidelberg castle. We finished the tour with the city of Frankfurt, sightseeing it by boat on the river Main and by walking around the city centre that impressed us with its interesting architecture, and the contrast between modern and classical design.
Every moment of this trip was an insight into something new, some different customs and different culture. This experience has helped me a lot to understand better the Ahmadiyya Muslims, their beliefs and the purpose of their activities. This incredible amount of love, warmth and hospitality concentrated in one place showed me that those extremist groups do not make Islam. Ahmadiyya Muslims managed to convince me that Islam is a peaceful religion and that they, just as we Christians, aspire to the same lofty goal – love.