Around 30,000 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community attended its biggest gathering of the year during the weekend (August 5 to 7) on a sprawling 210-acre site near the Surrey border. Jalsa Salana, which literally translates as ‘annual convention’, was being held for the 56th time in the UK, having originated in India in 1891.
Ahmadi Muslims are only a small percentage of the total number of people following the faith in the UK, but its numbers are growing. It differs from some other denominations in that Ahmadi Muslims believe in the second coming of the Messiah, Jesus, which will be metaphorically fulfilled in a perfect Muslim who will revitalise Islam and bring about lasting peace. They believe that their community’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was that person. Since his death in 1908 the community has been led by a series of Caliphs, of whom current leader Mirza Masroor Ahmad is the fifth. The UK’s Jalsa Salana is considered special because the Caliph lives in the UK and addresses the convention in person on all three days.
The event had to be cancelled in 2020 because of Covid, and last year fewer than 5,000 people attended in order to abide by social distancing guidelines. Although the 2022 event saw numbers return to somewhere close to what they were before the pandemic, there were still some restrictions in place. In particular, while the event normally attracts delegates from over 100 countries, this time only around 30 were represented in person. Nonetheless, the event at Oakland Farm near Alton was also streamed and broadcast to members of the community worldwide, and external speakers addressed the crowd via video link. Spokesperson Fareed Ahmad told SurreyLive that despite some adjustments still being in place, the aims of the gathering were as important as ever.
He said: “The purpose is to bring people together in a spirit of brotherhood and also to increase one’s knowledge of faith and increase one’s faith, and through that to increase your service to humanity on a wider basis, because that is the purpose of creation. It has a very spiritual atmosphere. There is a strong focus on collective worship and over the three days various speeches are given by scholars on different aspects of Islam and its relevance to contemporary society.
“Our message is about the need for greater justice for society. The world is facing unprecedented challenges – both conflicts and economic challenges – and a lot of these derive from the need for greater justice in the way that government and international affairs are conducted. Secondly, the message is about the need to recognise the existence of God because our belief is that He is the pathway to peace. So it’s a message of hope in the face of troubled times.” As well as speeches and prayer, delegates were able to explore various exhibitions on display that remove misconceptions about Islam and educate them about human rights and the history of the Ahmadiyya community. There is also a strong social element to the three-day event.
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