The start of the UK’s largest Muslim convention saw 40,000 people stand shoulder to shoulder as they self-reflect and focus on spiritual goals for the coming year. More than 40,000 people attended the Jalsa Salana, the largest Muslim convention in the UK. Around 40,000 Muslims stood shoulder to shoulder as they attended the first day of the UK’s largest Islamic convention. People travelled far and wide, with some visitors coming from abroad for the Jalsa Salana, which began on Friday and ends on Sunday. The annual convention, now in its 57th year, offers people the chance to come together to “self-reflect” and “focus on spiritual goals for the coming year”. Jalsa Salana, which took place in Hampshire, was organised with the help of 5,000 volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which is deemed to be the fastest growing sect within Islam. The convention features several highly symbolic services and sermons from the leader, or Caliph, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. Fraz Ahmad, 19, a law student travelled from Bradford for the convention, said: “I think it’s really important to remove the misconceptions around Islam and change the narrative, change the perspective, that people have upon it. By people coming here and having a look at what true Islam looks like, and what we believe Islam is about, that’s the only way that narrative is going to change.” Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad leads the prayers and holds sermons throughout the Jalsa Salana.
Sarah Ward, 43, a primary school teacher from south-west London, also attended the “diverse” convention. “We know, as Muslim women, we’re very diverse, we’re not monolith, we’re from different backgrounds, we have different skills, we have different passions, we do different jobs, but we come together as one community”, she says. Sarah adds: “We’re united under our Caliph, and it’s really nice to see that diversity yet that unity that’s there. As much as Jalsa changes – in that the marquees might be bigger or we might have more facilities – the essence of why we come to Jalsa is exactly the same. “We come here to listen to the speeches of our Caliph, to self-reflect, to self-improve. It’s a pause in the year where we come together and we just have that space to enjoy our sisterhood and focus on our spiritual goals for the coming year, and you always come away quite refreshed.” Rafiq Hayat, the national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in the UK, raised the flag for the community alongside the Union flag, on Friday. The Caliph then gave a sermon, which addressed the current issues facing the community and society as a whole.
Around 270,000 meals will also be prepared onsite by the volunteers over the weekend with 9,000 rotis, a flat bread eaten with every meal, will be prepared. There will be 772 pots of food made to cater for the convention on Friday alone. Dr Munazzah Chou, 38, from Farnham, says: “During Jalsa, everybody gets together and it’s an amazing experience. Prayer, in general, is all about coming together, standing shoulder to shoulder in a row, there’s no hierarchy, and during Jalsa, the sheer scale of it makes it more amazing. Hospitality is a huge part of being a Muslim, so being hospitable towards travellers and everybody you meet, it’s a big part of that, and every year we get an experience of that.”The Caliph will address the women in the female section of the convention, on Saturday. Attendees will gather to pledge allegiance to the Caliph in a human chain formed of 40,000 people the following day.
Javed Uddin, 57, from Leicester has been preparing meals for the convention for over 20 years. He adds: “We usually cook dahls, which is lentils, in the afternoon, and then we cook lamb and potatoes in the evening. When you do worldly things, you can work here like 14, 15 hours, which I’ve done many times, and you’re shattered and finishing at three, four, five o’clock in the morning, but it just keeps you going.”