MORE than 35,000 people from 100 countries gathered in the town of Alton, Hampshire to take part in the largest Islamic convention in the UK.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community hosted its three-day Jalsa Salana (annual gathering) at their UK base, the Hadeeqatul Mahdi,,a 200-acre farm in Alton, last weekend (Friday-Sunday, 3-5).
Among those who attended were minister Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Sir Edward Davey MP, Paul Scully MP, and Bernadette Khan, the mayor of Croydon.
Increasing spiritual awareness is a focus of the Jalsa, while this year’s convention also tackled issues such as the rise of so-called Islamic extremism, the growing threat of the far-right and Islamophobia.
Lord Ahmad and other prominent delegates took part in talks about the community’s solidarity against extremism and spreading a peaceful message about Islam. They were also shown around exhibitions at the event.
Britain’s Ahmadiyya community was established in 1913 and moved its global headquarters to this country in the 1980s following their persecution in Pakistan. There are 129 branches across the UK and the community has opened a number of mosques, including the Baitul Futuh mosque in south London, the largest in western Europe.
An estimated 30,000 of the UK’S 2.7 million Muslims are Ahmadis.
In his remarks at the Jalsa, former Cabinet member Sir Edward urged newly elected Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan to stamp-down on the discrimination against religious minorities in the country, including Ahmadis.
He said: “I challenge the new prime minister… You now have huge responsibilities. You now have the chance to reduce and end the persecution and discrimination against religious minorities in your country. Not just Ahmadi Muslims, but Christians and people of other faith groups.
“And I think you cannot be a friend of the Taliban in Pakistan and come to Britain and pretend to be a liberal. So, I call today on prime minister Imran Khan to promote tolerance and to throw open the door of freedom and human rights to everyone in Pakistan.”
In his keynote address, the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, called on Muslims to defend their faith and spread the message of peace.
“Today, there are people, including some Muslims, who say that religion is for ancient times and not relevant in today’s world. Hence, it the urgent need of the time for Ahmadi Muslims to stand up and defend religion by increasing in faith and by illustrating the fundamental, everlasting value of religion in the world,” said the Caliph.
The group launched a campaign called “Pathway to Peace” which aims to use the teachings of Islam to tackle challenges such as global unity, eradicating poverty and fighting extremism.
Despite the hostilities the Ahmadiyya community continues to face from orthodox Muslims, the Caliph announced that last year 647,869 people from 129 countries had accepted the Ahmadiyya Caliphate, before taking an oath of allegeinace from 35,000 Muslims forming a human chain from his hand at the Jalsa.
Who are the Ahmadiyya community?
The Ahmadiyya community takes its name from its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the faith in India in 1889 and was regarded by his followers as a prophet and the promised messiah mentioned in the Quran. Ghulam Ahmad saw himself as a renewer of Islam and claimed to have been chosen by Allah.
However, Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadi movement are rejected by mainstream Islam and have faced persecution around the world as Ghulams Ahmad’s claim of prophethood is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.
In Pakistan, which once was home to the largest Ahmadiyya population of any single country, estimated to be around four million, now only has an estimated 400,000 due to the difficulties the community faces in the Sunni-majority nation.
In 1974, under severe pressure from clerics, Pakistan’s first elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced a constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadi to be non-Muslims. A decade later, military dictator General Zia ul Haq made it a criminal offence for Ahmadis to identifying themselves as Muslim.