Sarah Ward Khan, London
As I get older, as yes I must face the inevitable, Ijtema* has taken on new shades of meaning for me. In my younger days as a Nasirat* it was all about meeting friends and not forgetting the words I had memorised for the speech competitions. As someone who’d newly joined Lajna*, it was about transitioning from a youngster into a mature woman and listening carefully to information and evaluating its place in my own life. As a new mother it was about finding a pattern that would fit in with me and my child’s needs. This might mean coming late or leaving early but always trying to get the best out of each attendance. Now my children are grown and Ijtema has a new meaning.
Of course, the highlight of any Ijtema is the address of His Holiness the Caliph, and being blessed to live in Britain where the Caliph resides and attends most national Ijtemas, I have many gems to treasure. But more recently I have attended the ijtema not as a participant or a mother but as a volunteer worker and this has by far been the most rewarding role I have held.
In my first year working with the Nasirat team I did not know my fellow team members very well. It was daunting to work with new people in a new role and I was very much learning the ropes and watching the routines. But one thing sticks in my memory from that first year as a volunteer: loneliness. Sometime people cannot tell that behind the smile lies sadness but that year as I watched the other team members meet their sisters, aunties and cousins, I felt what I have felt before – an aching gap where my family should be. Being a child of converts, or having your family live far away, it’s easy to forget amidst the hustle and bustle of life that loneliness can creep into even the happiest of places. So that first year I was a volunteer I left with bittersweet emotions. Happiness for an enjoyable time with friends and loneliness for a family not present.
But the next year, and every year after that has been a different story completely, I worked again with the team and we were now familiar friends who had met and communicated throughout the year. Where before there was something missing, now lay deep friendships and sisterhood. We met each other as old friends and laughed and joked. I was so busy I didn’t have time to feel lonely.
The Holy Qur’an states:
And know that this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord. So take Me as your Protector (25:53)
For me, this is the blessing of Ijtema and the abiding blessing of being an Ahmadi Muslim. We make our own family in Lajna Ima’illah and for every lonely moment I now have a thousand bonds of friendship to bind me to my sisters in faith. Ijtema is one point in the year but it is the culmination of work done by Lajna every month. Ijtema is not simply the competitions, bazaar and food, it is also about meeting as a community and building friendships that cross divides of language, race and age. So, my advice would be to build your own sisterhood and Lajna family, keep in touch on a regular basis and then the Ijtema will feel like a family celebration for you too.
Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.
Nasirat ul Ahmadiyya is an auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for young girls between the ages of 7 and 14. Literally, ‘Helpers of Ahmadiyyat’.
Lajna Ima’illah is the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Literally, ‘Group of the Handmaidens of Allah’.