I write this article with a hint of melancholy, for looking outwards at the world the disharmony and disunity that surrounds us is vast, and threatens to engulf us all. Human beings are inherently good, however when faced with threats or terror or fears, it brings out the worst in many of us. One of the major threats today comes from fanatical Muslims, and in response to this we have allowed our own extremists to come to the forefront of our political landscape, demonising and victimising minority groups, spreading messages of discord, even blowing the trump-ets of war.
Most of us fortunately still remain tolerant, and kind, and compassionate, though in the recesses of many hearts there perhaps exists a flicker of doubt nonetheless. It is a doubt about the religion of Islam, a faith which echoes throughout the front pages of newspapers regularly, yet still ironically remains a mystery to us, a deep and profound unknown which we have never really understood. What is Islam truly about? Is it a backward, barbaric religion at its core, as some suggest, or is it a faith of beneficence, of tolerance, of beauty? One way to find the truth is through academia - to discover Islam theologically and perhaps spiritually. But, my friend, if you perceive that you have not the time for such study, then I invite you to a different, more direct route to put your heart and mind at ease.
For most of the year, Oakland Farm in Alton, Hampshire lies silent, the grass untainted, the landscape rarely noticed. It sits at the top of the South Downs, and between the time that the sun rises and sets each day, a human voice is rarely heard. For three days each year however, the dormancy transforms into life. The farm converts into a city, as over 30,000 Muslims from across the world trek to this distant, unlikely location for a long weekend like no other.
'There are angels in the air,' some people claim as they delight in the company of their loved ones, as they listen to speeches that inspire them, as they eat quality food. 'Perhaps,' their friends respond, but angels or no angels, the Annual Convention ('Jalsa Salana') of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has unity and compassion at its core. Flags of every participating country are raised high, as a symbol of global solidarity. Slogans are raised of peace and goodwill, as politicians, dignitaries, humanitarians, and religious leaders take to the stage to express their sentiments of how best to create a cohesive, harmonious world. On the final day of the convention, the emotional and spiritual bonds of mutual unity become physical bonds, as Ahmadi Muslims temporarily form a human chain, such that every individual is connected to the supreme worldwide leader of the Community - the Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad - a man at the forefront of promoting and advocating world peace. Many non-Muslims attend this event, and in case you hadn't previously heard of it, with this article I invite you too. Some media commentators in the past have called for public Muslim marches against extremism, to assure the rest of the world that they are not passive sympathisers. This, the 50th Annual Jalsa of the Ahmadiyya Community, is far more than simply a denouncement of extremism. It is a practical demonstration of a love without racial discrimination. It is an exhibition of intellectualism and quest for knowledge and understanding. It is a beacon, a shining light of tranquillity amongst a world increasingly consumed by bitterness.
Why do I feel that it is important, even necessary that you at least give my invitation some thought? Only for this reason - that a society steeped in mistrust and misconception can never flourish, and in a world in which radical Islam continues to devastate us, we as individuals must be sure that our Muslim neighbours and friends are not inherently backward, or misogynistic, or intolerant. We should be certain of this so that the next time terrorists strike fear in our hearts, we are able to stand up with a powerful conviction that demonising those from a particular faith is not the solution to our problems. We should be certain so that throughout our lives we are able to unite with our Muslim colleagues with an unshakeable solidarity, knowing with all our heart that those extremists who attack us do so not because their religion is evil, but because they themselves are. And with this knowledge bringing us closer together, ultimately we can begin to heal the wounds of our society, and regain the sense of unity that our world at large truly desires.
I'll see you there,
Your Muslim Friend.
Jalsa Salana UK 2016 will take place on the 12-14th August. To register, visit https://jalsasalana2016.eventbrite.co.uk/ or email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, please visit http://www.jalsasalana.org/uk/