A few weekends ago, one of the largest gatherings of Muslims took place in the UK. The National Peace Symposium was held at the Baitul Futuh Mosque, the largest mosque in Western Europe. It is a mosque that I have regularly attended and whilst I am not from the Ahmadiyya community, one cannot be overawed by the sheer determination, honesty, integrity and strong volunteering ethic that is the foundation of the Ahmadiyya community in the UK.
The National Peace Symposium is an annual event where people of faith and those who have an interest in faith come together with politicians, social activists and many others. The Symposium is run by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a community that has suffered much overt persecution in countries like Pakistan and one which suffers bigoted prejudice by others in Europe. It therefore suffers intra-Muslim intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry by non-Muslim communities.
Yet, the Ahmaddiya Muslim community has overcome such challenges with graciousness and a humility that can only be regarded as being pleasantly overwhelming. They have organised wide scale community campaigns for all and have provided volunteers to give blood, whilst raising money for local appeals including Poppy appeals. The community has also been at the forefront of raising funds for local projects which help all communities and not just Muslim communities.
Inherent in the DNA of Ahmadiyya community members is the desire to play a constructive role in local communities and integrate and fit in by being productive members of society. Much of this has been instilled in them because of their history of being a minority within a minority which has shaped their activism and which has also meant that they have made themselves indispensable in areas.
Furthermore, the National Peace symposium held a few weeks ago, was attended by the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya community. Mention Caliph in today's world and some will jump to the conclusion that it is associated with ISIS, yet the term Caliph has been a concept in Islam from the beginning of the faith in Arabia. Historically, it has been allied with leadership, spiritual direction and Islamic symbolism and has also been associated with someone who protects and guides. Yet, ISIS and its barbarous nature has placed the term in the darkest recesses of the mind and brings up a reaction of fear in some who associate it with the butchery of that group.
The Caliph of the Ahmadiyya community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, delivered a keynote speech at the event where he urged religious leaders in Muslim communities to provide leadership to young people and to grapple with the disaffection that so many young people feel. He reached out to other faiths, talked about compassion, care, dialogue and empathy whilst making clear that the solutions to problems are to be found within communities and not externally. Seek within and you will find the solution, was a strong theme in his speech.
The Ahmadiyya community is regarded by some within Muslim communities as being a non-Muslim heretical form of Islam. Whilst some choose to take this position, others outwardly voice this position on social media with hate targeted at this peaceful and pro-active community. There are also others within Muslim communities who value the dynamism and humanitarian nature that is so evident through the actions of this community.
Yet, there comes a time when a stance has to be taken regarding the bigotry and hate that this Muslim community receives, at a time when it demonstrates fundamental practical and humanitarian values that many Muslims would associate with Islam. At times of persecution, the Ahmadiyya community has shown patience, when they have suffered abuse, they have quietly listened and undertaken reasoned dialogue and when their leadership has been abused, they have stood up with dignity and asked for forgiveness, even when they have not been wrong.
As an individual who has worked with the community and who is not an Ahmadiyya, I for one am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and with any person who believes in the right of freedom of worship, belief and the right for people and communities to live their lives free from persecution. These are core values that are inherent in this community and they are, I believe, fundamental values to Islam. It is these minority communities within the Sunni majority that helps to shape the collective conscience of how Islam is interpreted. Long may they survive as a check and balance against prejudice and as a force for good.