Tens of thousands of Muslims have flocked to the English countryside. Why? To hear one man’s message.
More than 40,000 Ahmadi Muslims and guests from over 100 countries travelled to a 200-acre farm in the English countryside this past weekend. The reason? To renew their faith, enhance religious knowledge and strengthen the ties of brotherhood and sisterhood.
But for many who attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK’s 57th annual convention, known as the Jalsa Salana, there was one primary purpose: to bask in the presence of their spiritual leader, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
As the fifth Khalifa – or Caliph – of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness serves as the group’s worldwide spiritual and administrative head.
While many countries host their own conventions each year, the UK Jalsa Salana, held in Alton about 65 miles southwest of London, has the distinction of serving as the community’s international convention, drawing guests and delegations from around the globe. The main highlight are the five addresses presented by His Holiness spanning three days — a unique and highly-anticipated opportunity to hear directly from the Caliph and benefit from his guidance and wisdom.
“We are just so blessed as a community to have a Caliph,” said Ibrahim Saidu Bangura, who travelled from Sierra Leone to be at the convention this year. “He is indeed our spiritual master.”
Long-awaited spiritual guidance and wisdom
The convention began with the Islamic Friday sermon and prayers led by His Holiness, followed by a flag-hoisting ceremony and the Caliph’s inaugural address. On Saturday, His Holiness addressed the ladies before highlighting the annual progress of the community. The following day, the Caliph led those in attendance in a unique and emotional pledge of initiation ceremony.
In his inaugural address, His Holiness exhorted participants at the convention and Ahmadi Muslims worldwide to introspect in order to develop righteousness within themselves. In his concluding message, the Caliph explained that Islam lays out in great detail the rights of everyone in society — and that the religion’s teachings are so beautiful that, if followed, they can serve as the solution to the world’s problems. He also focussed on the rights of the poor through commandments in the Holy Quran and examples from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions.
Mubaraz Shaikh, a 29-year-old financial analyst who travelled from Adelaide in Australia to attend the convention, feels the Jalsa’s purpose is about self-reformation. “The five addresses delivered by the Caliph all highlight different aspects of how Ahmadi Muslims can reform themselves.”
“The key message is to do more for others than you would for yourself,” he added.
“It’s always a very enormous blessing and honour to pray behind the Caliph,” said Marwan Gill, a missionary serving in Argentina.
“Listening to his inspiring words permits us to improve our spirituality, our morality, do self-reflection and in general, improve our faith.”
This was the first year since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the UK Jalsa Salana returned to full-fledged capacity, allowing international guests to attend without restriction. Ahmadi Muslims from around the world were hungry to participate in person after having been deprived of the opportunity for several years.
Afiya Wahab Butt, a schoolteacher from Copenhagen, had not attended the Jalsa since 2015 and was overjoyed to be in the presence of His Holiness once again.
“It’s overwhelming knowing that you’re this close to our beloved Caliph,” she said. “Being able to listen to his recitation of the Quran, pray behind him and be so close is nothing but a humbling experience.”
She added that the address His Holiness delivered to ladies was incredibly inspirational. In his speech, the Caliph narrated stories of the female companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who were paragons of sacrifice and established a strong connection with God.
“Allah has not made these levels [of piety] exclusive to men and has not said that only men can reach these levels and women cannot,” His Holiness said in his address.
Those words made Butt want to better herself. “To learn what kind of women the mothers of the early Muslim community were, made me look inwards and try to understand what kind of habits I should adapt but also unlearn — what I should do more and do less of. It was absolutely relevant both for the times we’re in and also for what kind of mindsets we should progress toward,” she said.
A cascade of emotions in the presence of His Holiness
Naila Chaudhry, a teacher from Saskatoon, Canada, said that the ability to pray behind His Holiness was transformative.
“As someone coming from such a far and isolated place, having limited opportunities to be in the company of our beloved Caliph — the moment prayers started [behind His Holiness] was an incredibly emotional experience. Every prostration was so precious … to enter the kingdom of our Lord under His most beloved amongst us right now was everything my yearning soul needed. It was truly euphoric,” she said.
For some attendees, it was their first time attending the convention. Mahidah Farhan Putri Amir, a water technologist from Singapore, had always longed to attend the convention and be in the presence of His Holiness. This year was her first opportunity and it unleashed a cascade of emotions.
“On the first day of Jalsa, I was blessed to be able to pray behind His Holiness. The moment he said ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the Greatest), tears started streaming down my face as I could not believe that this was happening,” she said.
Amir was not alone in her emotions. Annum Seher Islam, a lawyer from Oslo, Norway, attended the Jalsa for the first time since 2018.
“As soon as I got to the Jalsa on the first day, it was like I was home. I felt at peace,” she said.
Those emotions became even stronger when His Holiness addressed the ladies on Saturday.
“As soon as he entered the ladies marquee, it was as if someone switched on a light, and the entire universe fell into my lap. It felt like all my problems were solved, like everything I was worried about was suddenly gone.”
Mubaraz Shaikh echoed the feeling of overwhelming emotion in the presence of His Holiness.
“It’s really difficult to explain the experience,” he said. “There’s spiritual light when you see him. You sort of forget about all your worries and everything that’s happening in life. You meet this one person and you instantly change, you do.”
That feeling, added Shaikh, who travelled 36 hours to attend, makes any difficulty or hardship in getting to the Jalsa melt away. “It’s worth the journey. There is no sense of difficulty.”
The international pledge of initiation ceremony, when Ahmadi Muslims reaffirm their commitment to their faith at the hands of the Caliph, is another experience that evoked incredible emotions from attendees.
“To do the pledge in person was like no other. Asking for God’s forgiveness behind the Caliph brought a deep sense of peace and the prayer at the end made me feel a complete sense of conviction,” said Chaudhry.
“I felt so close to Allah — as if in this moment, I were to ask God for any prayer, I knew it would be accepted.”