More than 3,000 youth participated in event in Bradford West Gwillimbury; Credo is: ‘Nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth’
by: Miriam King
1 / 11 Participants at the annual Ijtima Youth Camp participate in a variety of sports. Miriam King/Bradford Today
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Bradford West Gwillimbury hosted the “largest and longest-running Muslim Youth Camp in Canada” over the weekend.
More than 3,000 youth attended, enjoying three days of camping, sports and religious discussion and education.
For some, it was the first time they were able to openly discuss their faith.
Ahmadiyya Muslims are persecuted in countries like Pakistan and Syria, where they are denied the right to practise their religion and even imprisoned.
In Canada, the AMJ – whose motto is ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ – have not only established mosques, but work with their communities for peace and social justice and to spread an understanding of Islam and the Quran.
The Youth Camp, or Ijtima, is organized each year by the AMJ Youth Association and the Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Canada; the event brings together Muslim youth from across the country.
It’s a massive effort, said spokesperson Blawal Aleem, who noted the event is entirely organized and carried out by volunteers.
The camp provides three free meals a day – with all 3,000+ delegates sitting down together under a huge tent. The food is cooked by volunteers at the AMJ Centre in Vaughan, delivered by volunteers in trucks and served by volunteers who also handle the clean up.
“There’s a lot of logistics and crisis management,” said Aleem.
Last year, a traffic jam on Highway 401 held up delivery of meals to thousands of participants.
The Ijtima schedule included daily prayers and lectures, but also educational events like poetry contests and recitations.
In the exhibition tent, displays traced the history of the AMJ in Canada, dating back to 1965, and a book fair gave young people from across the country access to a variety of publications, including the Holy Quran, translated by the AMJ into 70 languages.
This year, delegates had an opportunity to hear not only from Elders within their community, but an Imam from Pakistan, who spoke about the Islamic faith and the importance of belief. For those unable to understand Urdu, translation headsets were available in English, French and Arabic.
“That is the demographic,” said Aleem, with Ahmadiyya Muslims from Syria speaking Arabic, those from Quebec speaking French, and those from the rest of Canada, English or Urdu.
Sports are always a big part of the camp.
“Sports tie everything together,” Aleem said. Activities include team sports like soccer, football, volleyball, basketball and cricket, and individual athletics, including a ‘strongest man’ challenge. “That is intense!”
Mazhar Hashman is one of the organizers of the sports activities at the Ijtima.
“What we’ve done is we’ve split about 20 teams into five pools,” said Hashman. “Every pool plays a sport, then every two hours they shift to a new sport,” he explained.
The divisions are based on skill levels to make it “more fun, more competitive,” he said. In addition to the team sports, there are individual athletics including 100-metre and 400-metre races in addition to recreational activities, like canoeing on the pond and, this year, a hot air balloon ride.
“We also have traditional sports that we have brought up from our ancestors,” Hashman said, referencing a tug-of-war and kabadi, a form of wrestling.
“In terms of getting a higher participation rate, we do have the e-sports set up as well,” he said. “That’s our main goal – to increase participation.”
“At the end of the day, all of these things make you a good Muslim,” said Aleem, noting the goal is to create a balance between the spiritual, intellectual and the physical. “It’s about changing your behaviour” through prayer, good works, and service both to the community and to God, he said.
One thing that is striking: all of the participants at the Ijtima are male. It’s not that women are banned, said Aleem, but that “the women have their own event on the same scale.”
The AMJ support women’s education and equality; separating men and women is just an expression and an interpretation of their faith, he explained.
Why hold a youth camp? Aleem pointed to a quote, on a poster at the site on 10 Sideroad: “Nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim faith was founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, identified by believers as the “Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi.” There are now tens of millions of followers in over 200 countries.
The current Khalifa is Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is guiding the faith “at a time of great global skepticism and animosity towards Islam,” which is one of the topics discussed at the Ijtima.
“Muslims are peaceful. All we’re doing is serving the community, under the guidance of our Caliph,” said Aleem.