EVERY YEAR FOR ONE WEEKEND, and usually it happens to be one of the hottest of the summer, I leave my Ilford home for somewhere a bit more rural: the Hampshire countryside.
I, and 35,000 other Muslims from around Europe, congregate on a farm near the market town of Alton over a remarkable three days for the sake of our faith.
We are of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which holds this annual gathering so we can get closer to God and improve our spirituality.
The highlight event involves all of us linking in a huge human chain that is connected to a single individual – our Caliph, Hadrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (May Allah be his helper), to whom we pledge our allegiance.
To some this may sound alarming. After all, Isis also had a caliph, right? Nor does taking part in a pledge of allegiance with a multitude of other Muslims sound like the most normal of weekend activities.
However, the values of the true caliphate are the opposite of those of extremist groups. Far from condoning terrorist activities, my beloved Caliph is a champion of human rights and a leading light of peace who is invited to parliaments and other representative assemblies across the world to share his pluralistic message and motto of “love for all, hatred for none”.
These are the true values of Islam. The literal definition of a Muslim is “one who spreads peace”, and the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of the faith, described a true Muslim as one “from whose tongue and hands others are safe”.
My Caliph also promotes the Islamic tradition that “loyalty to one’s nation is part of one’s faith”.
These are the principles of our gathering. There will be laughter and friendship, and great food, exhibitions and speeches. But above all, the real purpose of this Muslim convention, the Jalsa Salana, is to encourage all attendees to improve themselves as individuals.
The true implication of my pledge of allegiance, therefore, is that I hope to return to Ilford as a better Muslim, and that means better serving my community, my nation and the values of peace that my religion teaches.
* Published 010819. The writer is an Ahmadiyy youth leader in Ilford.
* Oaklands Farm (Hadeeqatul Mahdi), East Worldham, Alton, Hampshire GU34 3AU. Free shuttle service from Alton station (Waterloo 67 minutes) and free parking on site; Friday 2 August 2019-Sunday 4 August 2019.
* All pictures © Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Bigger format versions usually available
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