Maleeha Mansur, Hayes
I remember as a child being curious about the concept of shyness and stage fright, a fascination rooted from alienation with the concept. Why were children and adults frightened of speaking in public? I failed to comprehend the challenge and what I certainly lacked was sympathy – until I was faced with the same difficulty in my son. For me, this was very alien. I felt lost on how I was going to help him overcome this. Little did I know, help was on its way without even my beckoning – Ijtema.
Confidence in public speaking that I had taken for granted was certainly rooted in regularly participating in Ijtemas. Standing boldly reciting the Holy Qur’an, poems, and speeches had made public speaking normal for me.
Ijtema is where many of us have found our public voice. It is a safe haven to speak and recite in front of a varied audience, not only developing one’s confidence in the art of vocal expression and composure, but also a means to shed any inferiority complex. The audience being a well-mannered, appreciative audience means that one is encouraged and motivated; this audience and participants listen attentively, and hearing fellow Muslim women boldly deliver their scripts is a means of inspiration and encouragement for everyone, especially the younger generation. They become true role models of female empowerment.
Competitive it certainly is, but in truth every participant and listener is a winner; it’s always an opportunity to learn and appreciate the intricacies of speech composition, articulation, quotation and time keeping. More so, we learn about our faith. We learn about topics that perhaps time may not have previously allowed us to delve into or about new perspectives we had not reflected upon before. Ijtema also teaches one to overcome defeat and failures in public speaking – of which I can name a few! It provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for character building in the face of unfortunate eventualities – never are these experiences scarring but rather a means and motivation for improvement. Our Ijtemas are a great example of the implementation of the instruction of Allah Almighty to, “vie, then, with one another in good works.”[i] Certainly, the pure and righteous environment that Ijtema provides is encircled by angels, as the participants engage in various means of the remembrance of Allah Almighty.
These benefits are unconsciously gained as early as seven years old, and sometimes even younger in the less formal under-7 competitions. Where else are there such opportunities to develop, hone and harness their ability? Indeed, the skills we learn from Ijtema are not limited to religious circles but are transferable to many secular spheres of life. Indeed, I have seen this first hand in my son, where participation in Ijtema and similar initiatives within the community have enabled him to overcome his timidity, a change that has directly translated to the school classroom, and he is not even seven yet!
The climax of this empowerment of youth lies in the speeches of His Holiness, the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, (may Allah be his Helper) whom we are honoured to be graced by at the concluding session. Words such as the following are pearls of wisdom blessed upon the attendees, and beckoning the youth forward.
“Disregard any hesitation or fear and stand up with certainty and conviction in the truth of your faith and respond to those who seek to defame its pure teachings.”[ii]
I vividly recall the Ijtema of 2010 where His Holiness presented the noble example of Hazrat Umme Ammaarah (may Allah be pleased with her), a female companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). His Holiness said,
“Therefore, it is the job of every woman today to become Umme Ammaarah (may Allah be pleased with her) and respond to every allegation made against the person of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Islam and thus try to fulfil her obligations towards the defence of his person and Islam.”[iii]
Indeed, such motivational words of His Holiness are true inspiration for Muslim women to step forward for our faith and use our public voice.
Were it not for the training gained in Ijtemas, I am doubtful I would have had the confidence, knowledge, or indeed articulation to attempt to write this today. We are indeed indebted to the blessed institution of Ijtema for bestowing us with a powerful voice.
[i] The Holy Qur’an, Ch 5: V 49
[ii] Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) on 6th April 2019 UK National Waqfat-e-Nau Ijtema
[iii] An address by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V aba to Lajna at the National Lajna Ima’illah Ijtema UK (3rd October 2010, Islamabad, UK), taken from Responsibilities of Ahmadi Muslim Women, Lajna Imaillah UK, p.51
Navida Sayed, London
Every year, thousands of Ahmadi Muslim women and girls congregate at a national two-day gathering called Ijtema. The worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad(may Allah be his Helper) at an Ijtema address stated that the “Ijtema itself was a proof of the freedom and independence Islam grants to women.” Attending the Ijtema enables girls and women to be empowered, spiritually rejuvenated, and educated. The engagement enables an ongoing process of personal development, gaining life skills, and professionalism, silently paving the path for opportunity and employability in the future.
At the Ijtema, young girls and women gain excellent communication skills. The competitions encourage participants to improve written skills by researching and writing their own speeches. Verbal skills shine through delivering speeches, reciting portions of the Holy Quran or poems of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) and the Khalifas in melodious voices. Participating in contests strengthens public speaking and boosts morale. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is fortunate to benefit from the guidance and blessings of His Holiness (may Allah be his Helper) even in the planning and management of the Ijtema, the success of which requires an immense preparation, and in relation to this His Holiness said:
“From an administrative perspective, this Ijtema has been organised and run by women from start to end, and they will have made a programme that is attuned to the needs and preferences of our ladies and girls. Hence, this Ijtema is a collective and practical demonstration of the great status bestowed upon women by Islam.”
Excellent leadership and management skills enable a successful event. Ahmadi women have their own auxiliary organisations for girls and women, which is overseen by a national President with a team of national departments. The respective local, regional and national women’s departments contribute to work for the national Ijtema, in various duties assigned by the national President.
A successful Ijtema requires cooperation in working independently and as part of a team in the relevant departments. This spirit of unity in a voluntary capacity reflects commitment, dedication and passion. Women may be part of the wider national team, judge competitions, deliver lectures, set up and lead exhibitions, serve food, maintain hygiene, or support the discipline team ensuring smooth running of the event is uninterrupted.
Other skills that girls and women gain through Ijtema participation are emotional intelligence, empathy, etiquette, negotiation, decision making, conflict management, leadership skills and team work. Supporting the President and her national team in the planning, organising and delivery of the Ijtema, equips girls and women with the ability to take responsibility. Contributing to the Ijtema enhances analytical, creative and critical thinking using a flexible and adaptable approach. Managing budgets in different departments, including setting up and managing the bazaar and various stalls establishes financial management skills.
Ijtema enables girls and women to showcase arts and crafts skills in exhibitions. The health and fitness departments organise fun games, as well as deliver educational lectures on various physical and emotional health topics. The Ijtema serves as a platform to discuss contemporary topics with an opportunity for question and answer sessions. Supporting the work of these departments, enables contributors to gain skills which could lead to employment in the health, education and social care sectors.
Ijtema competitions on a national scale teach key skills from an early age including resilience, coping, self-awareness, thoughtfulness, asking for help and a willingness to not give up. This process also helps with learning how to handle criticism in the form of constructive feedback and remaining positive, motivated and inspired by the success of others. These skills develop over time and enable an ability to overcome challenges in the workplace.
Girls and women gain countless skills by attending and supporting the work of the Ijtema including organization management, time management, problem solving and prioritising. The best part is the sisterhood; meeting girls and women on a national scale and developing and maintaining new and lasting friendships. This enhances social skills, confidence and the ability to network and liaise with new people, a demanding skill in the workplace. At the Ijtema young girls can establish new friendships, growing up to become empowered and educated women who not only reap the spiritual benefits of Ijtema participation, but along their life journey gain many skills leading to opportunity in all walks of life.
Nabila Khalid, Bury
Friday at school would be spent repeatedly checking the clock in anticipation for home time. As soon as it was 3pm we would rush home, change, grab our bags (which we had packed and repacked weeks in advance) and head to the mosque where women and girls from around the region would take coaches and minibuses to the National Ijtema for Lajna Ima’illah and Nasiratul Ahmadiyya UK.
The national Ijtemas have been a highlight on my annual calendar since as long as I can remember. Growing up I would eagerly await this exciting trip to the south of the country to spend two days and nights with others, refuelling our spirituality, and deepening the bonds of friendship and sisterhood on the way.
My best friends, fellow mums, advisors and mentors are all girls I met and befriended at an Ijtema. Even aside from friends there would be so many ladies I have seen growing up, and despite not knowing their name, they have become familiar faces and role models – living examples of Islamic morals and principles.
The standard of hospitality we experienced reminds us of the early history of Islam.
“During the time of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him), when guests started arriving in large numbers, he would divide them between his companions, who would happily welcome them into their homes. In the morning, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) would ask the guests about their stay overnight and the hospitality of the companions. Each and every one would reply that we have never seen such hospitable hosts, who have fulfilled their due rights. 1
Sometimes our coach would reach near midnight, or even later, but there would always be ladies on duty waiting to greet us; ladies who had families waiting for them at home, but nevertheless happily and voluntarily stayed to welcome the guests. A tea corner would already be set up with a kettle, microwave, milk, tea, and biscuits. Dinner would be available in case we hadn’t eaten en-route. Rows and rows of mattresses with beds made up would be ready for us.
The atmosphere would be cosy, and we would huddle in groups, chattering away. However, an undisturbed night of sleep is only for heavy sleepers, as people could be arriving late in the night, travelling after school and work for up to 8 hours from as far north as Scotland. There would be babies, and children and the excitement and novelty of this massive sleepover could make it hard to settle down and sleep – we certainly learned patience and tolerance.
No matter how late we fell asleep, we would be up for Fajr Prayers or even better, pre -dawn Tahajjud Prayers, after making pacts promising to wake each other up. It was so pleasant to be awoken at dawn by the sound of Azaan (call to Prayer), something common in Islamic countries but not in the West. In the morning, before we got up, breakfast would be set up in the food area by more volunteers.
As we got ready, girls scattered around the hall would practice their tilawat, speeches, and nazms. These girls had been preparing for months. They had attained first position in their local and regional competitions in order to qualify for participation at the national Ijtema. I qualified for the national academic competitions a couple of times, usually in extempore speech which had the shortest preparation and so less time for nerves! But girls as young as 7 would take to the stage with so much confidence, in front of judges and hundreds of women listening that I would always watch and listen in admiration.
Despite not often being a participant I would still be so excited about National Ijtema. There is an air and atmosphere at these gatherings that cannot be described in words, only experienced. We never knew if we would be blessed with Beloved Huzoor’s (May Allah be his Helper) presence (until the last day of Ijtema) but whenever we would, it was the biggest highlight of the two day event. I also looked forward to our National President’s speech. The passion and love with which she spoke, as if a mother to her favourite child meant her message hit deeply and imprinted straight on our hearts.
From these speeches and from Ijtema I always come away feeling motivated to become a better self, with so many fresh perspectives to take into consideration about things I had not previously thought of and so I look forward to future ijtemas with great anticipation.
- Imam Ahmad bin Hanbalrh, Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 5, Hadith 15644 [Beirut, Lebanon: Alam al-Kutub, 1998], p. 357
Fezia Haq, London
A flock of birds. A forest of trees. A galaxy of stars. There’s something about the natural world that is inclined towards sticking together. Nature not being separate from religion, it is understandable why faith has laid so much emphasis on remaining united.
Ijtema is one of those events that gives us the chance to “hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah” as the Holy Quran sagely advises. From all over the country, people belonging to the different auxiliary organisations within our community come to partake in their respective events where knowledge is shared, competitions held, and exhibitions displayed.
But Ijtemas are more than these activities. They provide us with experiences that go beyond that: by attending, we try to reform ourselves together, serve people together and pray together. The idea of convening for a purpose greater than just going to a festival with numerous attendees is evident from the word ‘Ijtema’ itself. “Meeting” or “assembling” can only be done in its truest sense if we are part of a ‘Jamaat’ (Arabic for “group of people”). Ijtema requires us to join forces, for our moral and spiritual flourishment.
When these competitions take place at Ijtema, another Quranic injunction is followed, that of “Vie, then, with one another in good works.” Not with the intention to beat others, but to improve ourselves and inspire our comrades. In turn, it strengthens and motivates a community towards reaching new levels, collectively and individually.
As a result of the pandemic, regional level Lajna Ijtemas, like other events, took place remotely last year, yet by holding God’s rope, they demonstrated what the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) painted in the words: ‘Believers are to one another like a building, whose parts support one another.’ This year, the Ijtema will God-willing take place in-person once again, fostering what was developed last time, and cherishing the moments we could not experience for some time.
And after having missed out on this blessing last year, just like groupings in the natural world, congregating at the Ijtema will, God-willing, make us stronger, better, brighter.
Yesterday Dr Fariha Khan gave an interview to Weekend World show on Voice of Islam Radio on the subject of women in Islam. If you missed it, catch up here.
The unique Jalsa of 2021 gave Lajna members the opportunity to serve the Jama’at by giving duties on a large scale after two years and led to much happiness and emotion. Here, more Lajna members reflect on their experience of Jalsa Salana.
“It was a truly blessed experience serving in my role this year, alongside all my sisters in Islam,“ said volunteer Sabiha Iqbal. “Serving in any duty during Jalsa has the potential to change hearts and minds and this year’s experience shaped my thinking and humbled me so I pray that I was able to fulfil my obligations to the guests of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) in the best manner, which proves most pleasing to Allah the Almighty. On Friday I was fortunate to live out the very act of Praying outdoors in the pouring rain that Huzoor-e-Aqdas (may Allah be his Helper) had mentioned in his Friday sermon. This year I served in the security team, where I was when beloved Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper) visited Ladies Jalsa marquee. The only way I can understand how I ended up being face-to-face, waving and smiling to the Khalifa of the Messiah is:
فَاذۡکُرُوۡنِیۡۤ اَذۡکُرۡکُمۡ وَ اشۡکُرُوۡا لِیۡ وَ لَا تَکۡفُرُوۡنِ
‘Therefore remember Me, I will remember you; and be thankful to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me.’ (Holy Qur’an 2:153)
It felt like a dream but I knew the peace that had descended to lock that moment in my memory could not be mistaken for a mere dream.
I also managed over 40,000 steps in 4 days. This, by the grace of Allah, met my goal of doing 10,000 steps a day. Attending Jalsa, and sacrificing time and energy never ever sets you back from your worldly objectives!”
Another volunteer, Bushra Sami, spoke about serving in the ziafat team. “When I found out we had to pack 4000 boxes in such a short time I knew with Allah’s help it will happen but it did amaze me when it was all done and I thought it is only because this is Allah’s Jama’at and He has given everyone the strength and capability to do their duties and fulfil the task.”
Zahida Rana also served in the ziafat team and said “Allah granted duty holders the blessed opportunity to attend Jalsa on all 3 days and to serve the guests of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) which we were waiting impatiently for the last 2 years. All the team members were overwhelmed to see their beloved Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper) after such a long time which filled them with spirit and strength to carry out their duties throughout Jalsa. Food bags were made for the guests to take away; this was a new experience and a big task for a small team but once we started, it finished quickly and once again I was reminded of our beloved Huzoor’s (may Allah be his Helper) saying that all this work is not a result of a single individual or our efforts but merely Allah’s doing without which, none of this would have been possible for us. We plough through each hurdle together as one Jama’at, one team with one mission as stated by our beloved Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper) that no matter what the weather or circumstance there should be no reduction in the level of hospitality shown to the guests of the Promised Messiah.”
Sheila Ahmed was on duty and relates an incident, “On the last day of Jalsa I was helping to guide Lajna to exit safely saying farewell and wishing all a safe journey home. A lady came up to me insisting I should lower my mask and once I had lowered it said ‘I wanted to see your face and say thank you for all security staff that stood in the heavy rain and continued to do their duties with smiles and such respect.’ This really made Jalsa even better and I felt very honoured to be part of it and of this blessed community.”
This was a different Jalsa, as Ghazala Ahmad remembers, “We anticipated that this year would be different, but all the days that I attended were really humbling. Everyone was very caring towards each other, followed the rules properly and we didn’t have any problems. I was very lucky to have been able to serve the Jama’at all the days, and cannot thank Allah for this opportunity enough.”
Reflecting on the concluding address of Huzoor which was on the rights of friendship, Roohi said that she will try and always foster love for all her friends. She said she was grateful to everyone who accepts her as she is and will try and fulfil the rights of friendship of all.
Munawara Jalil said that everything went very well on the inauguration day. With the blessings of Huzoor’s presence everyone was energised and no problem arose with the grace of Allah. The guests and the duty-holders alike were very happy and there was no sense of tiredness among anyone.
Nusrat Safir reflected on Jalsa Salana being held after two years. “Alhamdolillah, attending the Jalsa Salana this year, was a very blessed and unique experience. For so many months, we have been unable to see and spend time with our sisters in Islam, to be in the presence of each other and to have the opportunity to serve our faith. But after meeting for the spiritual gathering of the Jalsa Salana UK, where hundreds of Lajna were brought together once again, to see their Beloved Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper) for the first time and to offer their Prayers behind him after so many months. It was faith inspiring and humbling to see, that even the heavy rain and the deep mud did not deter our ladies from coming. To see so many ladies attend this most blessed event, come rain or shine, for the sake of their faith, has reignited my passion once again. Attending Jalsa Salana has shown just how much the physical meeting between friends and sisters in Islam has been missed and how much it is needed.
Alhamdolillah, Alhamdolillah that Jalsa was held once again, and the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood in Islam have been strengthened once again.”
Sawera Munir, a member of the security team spoke of the rain and blessings of Jalsa. “No words can describe the feelings of immense gratitude to be back on the blessed grounds of Hadeeqatul Mahdi, to be of those who were able to serve at this year’s Jalsa Salana UK 2021, to know that Huzoor e Aqdas (may Allah be his Helper) graced us with his presence we were able to get a glimpse of him, Alhamdolillah. This year’s Jalsa was rain and rainbows of blessings. The rain, sunshine and more rain emphasized nothing but the amazing grace of Almighty Allah and His blessings. We felt a great sense of gratitude, tranquillity and love serving. Being part of the security team meant that our post at the gates could not be left uncovered. With the persistent rain, over four days, our team stayed united, served diligently and with forbearance and not a whisper of complaint. The rain felt as if the Almighty is preparing a crop for love, unity and spirituality on the Mahdi’s land. With every drop that fell on us, our hearts warmed with love for our Khalifa, with the increasing desire to better ourselves.”
Mariam Saud was also serving in security. “During the inauguration, seeing Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper), when he came to the Lajna security marquee, was a blessed and emotional experience for me. Huzoor’s motorcade also drove past the Lajna security entrance during Jalsa and I was fortunate to see Huzoor in his car on Saturday and Sunday. This was another blessing. On Sunday when we left the security marquee to go to the Country Market car park, the Khuddam kindly helped me by making sure I got on to the shuttle bus safely. As a wheelchair user, I was very pleased with the help and support provided as this shows how inclusive we are in the Jama’at.”
Covid-19 has been a concern but Annchel Rathore felt reassured. “This Jalsa was a real privilege to attend. The whole experience was nothing less than spiritual and reflective. The organisation around precautions for COVID19 made me feel extremely safe. It was very emotional seeing my Ahmadi sisters after ages and as always there is a unique atmosphere when we are gathered together! The highlight of this year’s Jalsa was seeing our Beloved Huzoor in person. When he walked in it felt like the whole marquee lit up; I felt truly blessed.”
For Nilgun Ahmed serving at Jalsa ”was an absolute pleasure and honour. After such a fantastic spiritual experience, I literally had to re-programme myself for the world on Monday.”
Atiyyatul Hai says she “saw people crying while seeing Huzoor e Aqdas in front of them after such a long time. Even older Lajna were saying that they couldn’t walk properly and couldn’t attend in that weather but just came to see the Huzoor e Aqdas. Some of them were saying that they have been refreshed again and attending Jalsa has given them new energy.”
Amtul Hai Shakir said, “my experience of Jalsa was incredible, Alhamdulillah. I feel so lucky that I was given the chance to do duty at this special and unique Jalsa. Seeing Huzoor after two years made me very emotional and I will talk about this event for many years to come. The passion to serve that our team had even during the rain was quite special. May Allah continue to bless us and may we be able to continue to serve the Jama’at and Huzoor, Ameen.”
Ziafat department found their job changed from previous years but were happy to serve once more. “This is our good fortune to have the opportunity to serve at ziafat at this year’s Jalsa Salana 2021,” said Faiza Anees. “By the grace of Allah and the prayers of Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper) all the work was done in a very good way, and we didn’t feel tired at all; it was as if some unseen help was with us.”
Another volunteer, Ismat Tahir said “Our team in ziafat was so lovely and patient to work with! Everybody made such a friendly and loving environment and without these efforts we would have not enjoyed Jalsa and benefited from it.”
Fouzia Khalil spoke of “a wonderful experience working with everyone in ziafat. Everyone was so friendly loving and caring and always had smiles – despite wearing masks their smiles were seen in their efforts.”
Amtul Majid commented that “Jalsa Salana was very enjoyable and our team was very well organised. We were able to accomplish big tasks despite a small team with the strength of sisterhood and blessings of Khilafat.”
Rashda Chaudry was grateful to serve as a volunteer and said “Alhamdolillah it is only with the grace of Allah that I was able to serve. I really enjoyed working with the whole team in ziafat. May Allah continue to keep us in good health and give us the ability to serve the guests of the Promised Messiah (peace be on him).”
Sania Imran appreciated serving at Jalsa. “Although Jalsa was very different this year, it went very well and brought everyone together as a community. I was very appreciative of the fact that we had Jalsa happening this year and that we were fortunate enough to serve the guests of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace). My duty was a lot more relaxed compared to previous years as we had only 1 marquee instead of 7 so it gave me the opportunity to help more with serving and packing dinner for the guests rather than just focusing on the health and safety/hygiene aspect. It was amazing to see everyone come together and be part of this extraordinary experience even with Covid restrictions in place. All together it was a heart-warming experience that was much needed after a very difficult year and a half.”
As you can see, volunteers on duty had common thoughts of teamwork and appreciation of being able to serve at Jalsa Salana for the pleasure of Allah and with the prayers of Huzoor (may Allah be his Helper), and wish to do so in future, God Willing.
Rabia Salim, Ash, Surrey
On Friday 6th August 2021, the Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was upon us once again after a two year COVID 19 hiatus. Day 2 as per tradition brought ladies the joy of the address of their Khalifa, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may God be his Helper) in the ladies marquee. From the first word, as the speech unfolded, until the end, the direction of the speech perfectly addressed all our worries and concerns at that moment in time. As we had not seen our Khalifa or prayed behind him for 17 months it was an added joy.
In those moments of his speech what unfolded was, as always, beautiful. I wrote notes and there were gems of encouragement for every woman and girl. Just as a spiritual father does, he kindly reassured, and guided us. He spoke about how a righteous woman can be many steps and ranks above men. Can any worldly organisation be proud of such an assertion? Sadly, no, as even in recent times, men are treated as superior to women, in pay, respect, and status. However our faith leader reiterated the Islamic view, that men and women are equal. In fact, in the marriage sermon it states in what ways they are equal – in qualities and intellect. This makes me feel absolutely reassured, and the fact that I am a Muslim woman writing this should make it evident. If anyone is in further doubt, ask any Muslim woman who knows her rights for her view, and she will assure you that this is the true teaching.
What followed on from this was glorious and made our hearts sing. His Holiness told us what rights we have in Islam.
Firstly, how men shouldn’t feel too superior to take counsel from women, and related an incident from the life of the Holy Prophet’s (peace and blessings of God be upon him) Companion and successor Hazrat Umar, may Allah be pleased with him) ). In this incident Hazrat Umar’s wife was assertive and vocal, and when Umar questioned it, she backed it up with, and gave the credit to Islam.
Secondly, the rights of women in a marriage are that the couple should have their own home, and not live in a joint family system, unless there is a specific need to live together.
Thirdly, the husband should give his wife the agreed dowry and the husband is not entitled to her property at any point unless this is her wish – either during the marriage, or at the end of the marriage if it ends unfortunately or after death. The wife’s earnings are hers, and the husband’s earnings go towards taking care of the family, as he is responsible for the family’s well being.
And finally, a right described in this august speech was that men are only allowed to remarry by following certain rules, and if the man can’t fulfil these, then he shouldn’t marry. Men may talk about multiple marriages in Islam; however, this is certainly very restricted and cannot be a way to feed carnal desires. In fact many husbands say that to take care of one wife in the best way, as Islam requires, is responsibility enough. Before marriage, a woman can even ask her husband to promise that he will not remarry if she wishes, and the husband must uphold this promise.
I know countless women treated unfairly after divorce, due to shameful cultural narrow mindedness. On the other hand when we look at Islam itself, we find it makes sense. Take the concept of the Islamic veil, or ‘purdah’, literally, the purpose of this is to put a barrier between men and women, to avoid indecencies in society; however, it certainly does not mean to lock someone up. In fact, men and women are both told to practice lowering of the eyes, or ‘Ghadde Basr’ first, and then women are enjoined to cover their heads and so on. Further, if we just look at domestic violence statistics we see violence against women has been studied by the World Health Organisation across 161 countries. Therefore we see that subjugation and oppression of women is a world wide societal problem and can’t be condemned to a certain religion, such as Islam, or only south Asian culture. His Holiness’s address, empowers women to be a source of knowledge, so if anyone has doubts about Islam’s treatment of women, we, as Muslim women, are happy to talk about our faith, to wipe away those doubts.
This year the Jalsa Salana of our Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the annual convention, held in Hadeeqatul Mahdi – the Garden of the Mahdi – in the rolling hills of Hampshire was a unique event to say the least. After 18 months of a pandemic, the likelihood of an event which usually hosts nearly 40,000 attendees from across the world, was not favourable. Nonetheless, by the grace of God, and guidance of the His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the event was adapted to comply with the necessities a global pandemic forces upon us. But the pandemic was not the only obstacle: the weather was less than optimal, with heavy showers, the farmland quickly turned into mud. Donning their facemasks and wellington boots, the volunteers were neither intimidated by the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, nor the weather conditions. For most, it was an opportunity to see and Pray behind our beloved Imam after such a long time, and this alone was enough to motivate the volunteers across departments including hygiene, audio-visual teams, first-aid, and security, amongst many more.
One volunteer, Lubna Waheed, said:
‘The most memorable experience this Jalsa was seeing His Holiness at the inauguration ceremony after such a long time. It was very overwhelming and my heart was overjoyed with happiness and motivation for my duty during the next three days at Jalsa. His Holiness’ address in the ladies session was so powerful and full of clarity on the rights and status of women. It reminded us of the beauty of Islam and further strengthened my faith in my religion, a religion that is the most perfect in every single aspect, Alhamdollillah (all praise belongs to God)’.
Sharing similar sentiments, Sadaf Waheed reflected that ‘Being able to be in the presence of His Holiness after such a long time was the most incredible experience. His Holiness’ address was so beautiful and the highlight of my Jalsa. It was such an empowering and strong speech which clearly highlighted the true rights of women. Another highlight of my Jalsa had to be being able to offer Prayers behind His Holiness, something we have all been eagerly waiting to do for a very long time.
I was really grateful to be able to do duty and it reminded me of how much I missed this all and how many blessings there are in serving the Community. It was a truly humbling experience and an experience I will never forget.’
The pandemic had certainly meant volunteers reflected on their role and indeed, their desire to once again be able to participate in a Community event. Naveed al Fatah Noor spoke of such yearning:
The Jalsa experience this year has been different than the usual. The pandemic has been challenging for everyone. First I was feeling a bit apprehensive about going to a crowded place, but knowing in my heart that His Holiness prayers are with us all, gave me a sense of satisfaction. It was really nice to see our Community come together after a long time. Everyone was enthusiastically performing their duties like always but this time with extra precautions. I feel really blessed to serve our Community and lucky to be a part of such an amazing team. Every step I walked felt like a good deed. Alhamdollillah, these Jalsa days have been a glimmer of hope that Insha’Allah very soon we would be able to conduct Community events like normal.
Of course, with COVID restrictions, for many it was uncertain if they will be able to attend the Jalsa in person. Faiza Usama spoke of such apprehension and how her usual team needed to be adapted.
‘The fact that Jalsa Salana was going to happen this year was definite but ‘will I be able to go’ and ‘will get a chance to serve’ were the big questions. All departments were informed to carry out their Jalsa preps as advised. I felt very emotional when I was told that as the in-charge of my department, I could only suggest five people to be on my team this year.
Every single sister’s face was in front of my eyes and it was really difficult to decide whom to ask for help. (Especially as each of them were ready to sacrifice their time and leave children home to serve the Community). But the moment of happiness and joy was when I met the sisters who normally do duty at Jalsa each year. They were still invited to attend on various days. My heart felt gratitude and peace and praised Allah that even though they were not with us at the book stall, where I serve, we were able to meet and greet each other. Jalsa is not only the source of immense spirituality but a bond of sisterhood which is shared & enjoyed by all of us. Alhamdollillah ’.
As well as being a Community event, the Jalsa is also an opportunity for deep personal reflection and understanding. Reflecting on her own circumstances, Amtul Qayum spoke of how Jalsa was a cause for hope and courage.
‘Jalsa Salana 2021 has been a very blessed one for me, Alhamdollillah. It has given me an opportunity to freshen up my mind after the death of my beloved son Zeeshan Ahmad in April last year. I was going through depression and just feeling down all the time. But Alhamdollillah, finally being able to attend the Jalsa after two years and gaining the blessing of Khilafat by serving the guests of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) gave me extra strength to perform my duty with the hygiene team throughout the Jalsa days. A few days before the inauguration I was a little hopeless that if I’ll even be able to do duty due to the age restriction for duty holders but I continued to pray that may Allah give me an opportunity to serve the Community this Jalsa. When I spoke to the national president of Lajna, she told me that I could come and do duty as I was 62 years old and fitted into the age criteria for this year’s Jalsa. Alhamdollillah, Alhamdollillah, Allah has always listened to my prayers. I did not feel tired, or have any negative feelings during these blessed days of Jalsa and it was indeed all because of prayers and the blessings of Khilafat Alhamdollillah. May Allah accept our service to the Community. Ameen.’
Jabeen Sethi penned a few verses glorifying God – SubhanAllah – as a beautiful way to reflect upon the magnificence of the three days, despite the difficult weather conditions
‘The sun shows its face from behind the dark clouds
As soon as The Khalifa closes his speech
And it is calm again – SubhanAllah
The rivers of Hadeeqatul Mahdi curve and bend through the muddy fields
Making the whole of Hadeeqatul Mahdi a unique work of art
The pool of rain drops make it challenging for boots and wellingtons to manoeuvre
But there is laughter and smiles as eventually there is release from the mud and a continuation of the journey to the Gah- SubhanAllah
Finally the moment arrives
My heart misses a beat as I say my first Allah O Akbar behind my beloved Khalifa
My master, whose prayers, wisdom and guidance complete me.
The rain, wind, mud and sunshine all drift in the background and became secondary – SubhanAllah
The rain brought clouds on us for a long period but today was a ray of sunshine
The sunshine that promises to return our little flowers and a healthy, strong crop next year- SubhanAllah.’
Even simply the news of hearing that Jalsa would go ahead this year was enough to cause excitement. Rehana Nasir describes her sentiments from the moment she heard the news.
‘I can’t express enough how happy I was when His Holiness announced there would be a Jalsa this year, I could not contain my excitement, it was overwhelming and I thank Allah for allowing us to have Jalsa after 1 long stressful year. The year we missed Jalsa felt as if I had lost a big purpose in my life. Being able to attend Jalsa again gave me a great feeling of hope, joy and happiness and it was very much needed.’
Ruhana Mahmood reflected on how many of us had been taking Jalsa for granted and how this Jalsa was indeed a humbling experience, after having missed it for just one year:
‘It’s humbling to be enabled to attend and serve during the 3 days of Jalsa due to sheer Grace of Allah. The 3 days, which passed in a blink of an eye, for which we have been impatiently waiting for the last year or so. We have been yearning to have a glimpse of our beloved His Holinesson the ladies side, to listen to his life changing addresses and to observe congregational Prayers behind him.
I hope and pray that each and every one of us has achieved the true purpose of Jalsa, so that may Allah enable us to reap its blessings and we truly become the recipients of the prayers the Promised Messiah (peace be on him) said for the attendees of the Jalsa Salana. Ameen.’
Dear reader, indeed, one common thread amongst all the testimonies before you is that no volunteer was deterred by the obstacles before us. Old and young alike, served with the same passion as any other year, if not more. The pandemic and the rain were only more reason to serve with increased humility, passion, and gratitude. Such is the teaching of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, sacrifice and hospitality is at the forefront of the teachings of Islam, and the Jalsa Salana, in the words of the volunteers themselves, is a manifestation of such teachings.
Yusra Dahri, Islamabad
This year, we thought that the Jalsa would be defined by the pandemic.
Turns out – in true British fashion – it ended up being defined by the weather. Masks were not the talk of the makeshift village, but the humble wellington boot. Social distance doesn’t seem that big of a deal when you’re standing in over 200 acres of field, and good ventilation seems like a non-issue when the wind does it all for you. And the rain…well, the rain.
On a serious note, I believe that this reveals the blessings of Jalsa. A pandemic doesn’t define Jalsa. And all jokes aside, the weather doesn’t define Jalsa either.
Jalsa, defines Jalsa.
The duty holders, whose badges are like badges of honour. The travellers, who get stuck in traffic for hours on end. Those at home, who haven’t been able to attend Jalsa for one year or one decade, but whose prayers are still as sincere as if they were breathing the air of Hadeeqatul Mahdi.
And Huzoor’s addresses, which inspire every single one of these people.
And so no matter where we are in the world, no matter what the state of our countries are, none of us are isolated, because Jalsa is something that we share.
The ground I am standing on right now, isn’t just the ground of the Gardens of Mahdi, blessed as they are. It is the same ground that an Ahmadi in Fiji stands on. It is the same ground an Ahmadi in Ghana stands on. It is the same ground an Ahmadi in Pakistan stands on.
It is the ground of gratitude. Gratitude, that we belong to this Jamaat. Gratitude, for the system of Khilafat. Gratitude, that we are Ahmadis. That is the ground we stand on.
And no matter how lost we feel in this world, this ground can never be taken from under our feet. It can never be claimed, it can never be broken up. It can only be shared.
We don’t know what the next Jalsa will bring. But we are planting.
We are planting seeds of hope. And no matter what happens, we know these seeds will grow, because this is fertile ground.
The rain will come. It must.
But the sun will follow, and when it shines – this ground will sparkle.
Danila Jonnud, Aldershot
For over a year now, everything has been “From Home”. Work from home, school from home, our community meetings from home, Ramadan, Eid Prayers, Friday Prayers all from home. Everything had to be done from home.
This included our annual Jalsa Salana – a convention usually of over 30,000 people travelling from all over the country, and even the world. Marquees, speeches, mud and rain, dust and heat. Duties to be carried out – accommodating guests on site, being part of the Press and Media team and seeing a journalist’s perspective on this cherished event. An important part of the year, something everyone looked forward to, a point of relatability transcending where people were from, or what part of the community they belonged to.
And then suddenly, the pandemic. Lockdown restrictions implemented meant that holding Jalsa as usual was out of the question. I had never experienced this, though there have been times when Jalsa could not take place, for example in 2001 due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease, which was before my lifetime. Stay home were the guidelines. So now what? As August neared, there was a sense that we should be readying ourselves, and yet we had no need to. Last year, Jalsa consisted of watching Muslim Television Ahmadiyya programmes of old speeches and Jalsa events. And then, throughout the three day broadcast, we saw addresses of His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (may Allah be his Helper), including a special address in the unusual circumstances of a socially distanced hall broadcast live around the world.
This year, due to the easing of restrictions, Jalsa Salana could finally be held, but it still wasn’t completely back to normal. Only few people were allowed to attend, socially distanced, for just one of the days, unless volunteering. They must be double-vaccinated, show a negative lateral flow test, and wear a mask whilst on site. This meant that only a few thousand have attended this year.
While it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as usual, me and my sisters have been able to go over to our grandmother’s house to make our own Jalsa this year while our parents are attending since they are volunteering. Making an effort to dress more nicely, buying our traditional Jalsa snacks, and making the “langar” food that we would have had at Jalsa – all from home.
Jalsa Salana always felt like something that would be there. Something that would always happen once in the year – a time to look forward to hearing the addresses of His Holiness, to meet friends and family during breaks. A time of fun and a sense of togetherness. Our annual convention. Our Jalsa Salana. Memories building each year, while reminiscing over old ones. Family staying over, bringing mattresses down from the loft, and talking so late that it became early Sunday morning. Becoming best friends with someone you might otherwise not see. This was Jalsa. And in 2020 it was cancelled.
So this year, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I can spend it with my grandparents when I couldn’t last year. I’m grateful on behalf of the people that are able to go and listen. I’m grateful for the MTA programmes showing what’s happening on site, as well as the interesting documentaries in the intervals. We all especially liked the one detailing the acquisition and development of Islamabad in Tilford – a place we grew up going to each week, that once held Jalsa Salana each year, underwent complete redevelopment, and is now the headquarters of the Community and residence of His Holiness.
So here I am. Attending Jalsa from home. Eating homemade “langar” food with my sisters and grandparents while they tell stories of the last Jalsa in Pakistan. Here I am, watching MTA, feeling a little sad knowing only my parents are on site, carrying out duties and meeting people. This is my Jalsa UK 2021 – from home.