The Review of Religions has been speaking to the young Imams and Missionaries, recently graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya, at the 48th Annual Convention ( Jalsa Salana) UK. We asked them about the experiences of their practical life and their efforts in helping to diffuse the issue of radicalisation.
The heinous and terrible acts of extremism witnessed over the last few months in the Middle East are undoubtedly harrowing but what is more alarming is the age and the homeland of many of its perpetrators. According to reports one in four foreigners who have signed up for the so called Islamic State is British as it is estimated that more than 500 British Muslims have travelled across to Syria and Iraq and joined the brutal and barbaric regime – ISIS.
Unlike the radicalised madrasa student, belonging to the remote and rural areas of the third world, clad in tatters and battling in the scorching heat upon the mountainous terrain, there is certainly, in this case, a clear distinction to be drawn from the typical terrorist that is often depicted in the media. Glorifying their acts of terror on social media like twitter and Facebook, with strong British accents and having received a far better standard of education and enjoyed the privileges of the developed world than the former. This indeed, is a new breed of terrorists, hailing from the West.
Among the many hundreds reported to have travelled to Syria and Iraq from Britain was an aspiring medical student from Cardiff, Nasser Muthana, 20 who alongside his seventeen year old brother, Aseel, are fighting in Syria.
As the government fears of the rising number of Britons leaving their countries for the battlefield, The Review of Religions has been talking to the young missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who have recently graduated from its religious institutions, Jamia Ahmadiyya and are now working in many countries of the World.
Jamia Ahmadiyya is an International Islamic Seminary and educational institute. Founded in 1906, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, when he expressed the need of a Madarasa for Ahmadi Muslims so that a new generation of Ahmadi scholars could be trained.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas claimed to be the Promised Reformer, whose advent was awaited under different names and titles by the adherents of various religions. Under Divine guidance, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas made the revolutionary disclosure that there was to appear only one such Reformer, the Imam Mahdi, whose mission was to ultimately bring humankind into the fold of one universal religion.
Although the concept of the Imam Mahdi in Islam is a vast subject and shall be discussed in greater detail in the future editions of The Review of Religions, however in short, in Islam, the Reformer for the latter days was prophesied as the Imam Mahdi, who would once again unite the believers under the leadership of the Imam. Today, many missionaries, preachers and those who have devoted their lives for the service of Islam are often referred to as Imams, for they are the representatives and helpers of the true Imam, within their communities.
He also maintained that according to the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, the use of force is totally forbidden in matters of faith. Throughout his life, he strongly challenged the false notion of Jihad held by the present day Muslims, in many of his writings, discourses and lectures, in his book Tiryaq-ul-Qulub, he writes:
“No true Muslim has ever believed that Islam should be spread by the sword. Islam has always been propagated through its inherent qualities. Those who, calling themselves Muslims, seek to spread Islam by means of the sword are not aware of its inherent qualities and their conduct resembles the conduct of wild beasts.”
The students of Jamia Ahmadiyya undertake a seven year course, the curriculum is largely based on acquiring a sound and in-depth knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith. However, a great emphasis is also laid upon comparative religious studies, consulting the original and authentic sources and studying the life of its holy founders and scriptures. Alongside the acquisition of deep religious knowledge, they are taught a variety of secular knowledge and trained in public speaking.
The institution is unique in its kind, founded by the Messiah of the latter days, it imparts the true teachings of Islam, in all its purity. Its students undergo a vibrant and intensive course that helps cater for their moral, physical and spiritual progress. As part of their course they are actively involved in a numerous charitable works and service to humanity such as charity walks, blood donations, feeding the homeless and visiting the sick, in order to inculcate high standard of moral values and ideals which they are expected to reflect in their practical life as missionaries of Islam.
Today, Jamia Ahmadiyya has opened its branches across the world, including UK, Canada, Germany and Ghana. The Missionaries qualifying form these institutions are sent to various parts of the world, propagating the true and peaceful message of Islam.
Many of these young missionaries have travelled from across the world to attend this year’s 48th Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in UK.
Usman Shahzad Butt, 24, a recent graduate of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK, currently serving as an Imam in Watford said, “Unfortunately, Islam is being terribly portrayed in the current media due to the extremist actions of a minority. Islam means peace and the vast majority of the Muslims are peaceful and loyal citizens.”
Speaking about his role as an Imam he further said, “As a missionary I now have a major responsibility; not only do we have to educate the people of the true and pure message of Islam as practised by the Holy Prophetsa but also have to be become a good role model through my actions and speech.”
Many of them spoke of the importance of integration. Mohammad Jeryullah, 24, a graduate from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK, is an Imam in Frankfurt, Germany said, “Integration is vital in order to effectively communicate the true message of Islam.” He also mentioned that often when he goes out to preach, the first questions he is asked is whether he can speak the German language. “By just speaking the same language breaks so many barriers and we immediately develop a common factor. I feel the public are more receptive to the message of Islam, therefore language plays a huge role in integration.”
Another missionary in Germany, Ahsan Faheem Bhatti, 26, Imam of Baitul Shakoor mosque in Gross Gerau, said, “Having been brought up in Germany, I understand the German culture, the societal issues and therefore can take a more levelled approachand our approach is based on nothing but the beautiful teachings of the Holy Qu’ran, the Qu’ran is our guide and promotes peace, love and harmony.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to strive in propagating the pure and pristine message of Islam. Its motto, ‘Love for All Hatred for None’ is preached and practised by the millions of members, spread across the world.
Tahir Khan, 24 an Imam in Norway said, “The mosque attracts many visitors, recently a few female students visited and I had the opportunity to share with them the Islamic teaching on Women’s rights. They were so impressed and said that if this really is what Islam teaches then this is something that everyone should embrace.”
The distorted image of Islam as portrayed in the Media, has led to an increased need of Muslim missionaries and Imams to dispel these false perceptions people have of Islam. Tuseef Ahmad, 27, joined Jamia Ahmadiyya UK in 2005. He currently serving as missionary in his hometown of Kessel, Belgium and said, “When I started working as a missionary , many of the locals said that they were extremely delighted that there is an Imam in their area and so the real message of Islam can be preached.”
Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra, the Second Khalifah of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community once said, “A nation cannot be reformed without first reforming its youth.”
This statement has proved to be of great significance. According to many experts, for instance, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London have reported that many of those being radicalised are the youth.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) is an auxiliary organisation of the Community, that seeks to nurture the physical, moral, and spiritual development of its members thereby enabling them and the Community at large to become greater citizens of society.
The AMYA in its practical contribution to society, proactively feeds the homeless, provides love and affection to the elderly in nursing homes, attends to environmental needs, donates blood to the NBS, helps orphans in need, empowers vulnerable people to reach greater heights and many other worthy causes which most often go undocumented. All of which, it believes contribute to a more peaceful and harmonious society.
Recognising the achievements of AMYA, the Prime Minister, David Cameron said, “Your (AMYA) presence in this country is a living example of how Britain has become a true home to people from all corners of the world. Your tremendous charitable services that you have delivered old and young alike, your care for the environment by planting thousands of trees each year, your feed the homeless project and blood donation drives are just a few of the many reasons that Britain can be proud of you. This is true faith in action.”
Rafiq Bhatti, who is a youth leader of AMYA in Gillingham, spoke about the recent appointment of Safeer Zartasht, 24, as their local Imam of the Nasir Mosque. He said, “He has had a tremendous impact, particularly on the youth. He leads by example and has helped encourage many of the younger guys engage more in the works of the community. I feel the involvement of the youth in these noble causes is the best way to help diffuse the issue of radicalisation.”
Speaking about the youth, Muhammad Ahmad Khurshid, 24, Imam of Daar ul Amaan Mosque in Manchester, believes that they are the most vulnerable, in particular those who are on the fringes of the society. He said, “They end up from one extreme to the other and this is possibly due to the lack of good positive role models.” Ahmad, constantly seeks way of interacting with the youth and said, “Sport is a wonderful way of interacting with the youth. I regularly organise weekly sports sessions as it grants me the opportunity to build a stronger relationship, identify their weaknesses and address them accordingly.”
Abdul Qudoos Arif, 24, another young missionary serving in the UK has recently appeared on BBC Radio, LBC, ITV news and many other media outlets, strongly condemning the acts of extremism and challenging the views of those who support such ideas. On one occasion he was sat alongside a pro ISIS and both had the opportunity to present their views. “The one advantage I had was that I presented my arguments purely from the Holy Qu’ran and the noble example of the Holy Prophetsa. Not only did it forcefully reject his views but hopefully proved to the others how shallow and baseless his arguments were.”
Many of the Missionaries that qualify from Jamia Ahmadiyya are assigned to various mosques and are given the responsibility of interacting with the surrounding community. At the occasion of laying the foundation stone for a mosque in Wiesbaden, Germany, His Holiness said, “When this Mosque is built you will come to witness that true Mosques are not a place to spread evil or hatred, but rather serve only to spread peace, love and unity throughout the world.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has opened over 10 thousand mosques across the world. This year, it will be opening its first mosque in Galway, Ireland. Rabeeb Mirza, 23, was recently sent to Ireland as a missionary and said, “The Ahmadiyya Community is like an open book. The doors of our mosques are open to all and act as beacons of light and truth.” Last month they held their 13th Annual Convention, many non-muslims guests attended and had the opportunity to learn about Islam and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He further added, “Our mosques regularly invite the Members of the public and actively try to reach out and engage with the wider community in our events.”
Under the guidance of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaba, Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as part of their practical training, the graduates from the 2013 class of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK were sent to Spain. During their two week stay they managed to distribute over 300, 000 leaflets, containing the true and peaceful message of Islam across Spain. Describing the experience, one of the graduates said:
“It was an incredible experience, however at times, particularly as we didn’t know the language found it difficult to communicate but standing in the cold whilst drenched in rain, our patience, perseverance and cheerful smile always translated our good intentions and peaceful message. Many would pat us on the back and commend us for our efforts. Once, someone ripped the leaflet into shreds and littered it onto the floor. Myself, and a few colleagues immediately started to pick up the pieces. We were astonished to find that a passer-by upon witnessing this started to help us and many were intrigued as to why we so cherished this message and started taking the leaflets from us.”
Mansoor Malik, graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK in 2012 and has been working as an Imam in Iceland for the past year. He is also enrolled in a college and is learning Icelandic and this year brought his teacher, Erla Bolladottir, to the Annual Convention. Speaking about his activities as a missionary he said, “There is a perception amongst the people that Imams generally remain in their mosques and only preach within them, people therefore are suspicious and apprehensive.” He therefore, regularly goes out to distribute leaflets containing the true teachings of Islam in various parts of his city and organises exhibitions about Islam.
The message of Islam is communicated to parliamentarians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, in short, it’s delivered to people belonging to all walks of life, without any distinction.
This year many of the young Imams attending the Annual Convention, brought with them guests form their respective countries.
Naveed Ahmed Mangla, a graduate of Jamia Ahmadiya Canada in 2010, is currently serving as an Imam in Belize, Central America. Belize has become the 206th country, where the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has established its mission and Naveed Ahmad Mangla had the good fortune of bringing the mayor of Belize City, Mayor Darrell Bradley, who was hugely impressed by the Community’s efforts for promoting peace and service to humanity.
Many other guests from French Guyana, Greece and Iceland, where the recent graduates are currently serving, attended the Annual Convention and were hugely impressed by the event and meeting His Holiness, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba.
Panagiotis Tsiolis, Chemist & Interpreter and Adigoni Lavdaki, Linguist were among the guests brought by Atta ul Naseer from Greece where he is serving as an Imam. They shared with us their impressions of the Annual Convention in the following words;
‘‘It is not common at all to see so many people, literally thousands of them, gathering in such a peaceful and harmonious way in order to share their experience from the past year, express their love to each other and pray. It is not common at all to see so many people join hands and focus on how to promote charity and help the needy, not by treating them like beggars but by assisting them to stand on their own feet. Finally, it is even less common to see these people do all these things and remain humble and modest, showing that it’s only natural to live this way, or rather that this is the only natural way to live. What we can’t remember is anybody complaining at any time; not even one face without a smile; not even one raised voice even for one second, during all these days, among all these thousands of people.’’
The students of Jamia Ahmadiyya are blessed with the constant guidance and attention of His Holiness, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba. On the occasion of the first ever convocation ceremony of Jamia Ahmadiyya UK, speaking about their future roles and service, His Holiness counselled that they should always remember their true purpose which is to serve Islam throughout their lives. It is their duty to convey the true and beautiful teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa to the world. His Holiness also spoke about the need for all Missionaries to remember they were ambassadors for the Khalifah of the time and thus it is their duty to reach the very highest moral standards.
In his address to the graduates of Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada His Holiness said,
‘‘Always remember that the key to your success is your humility. You should not just be the type of missionary who guides or lectures others, but in fact you should make sure that every point that you try to inculcate in others has already been developed within yourself.”
By the Grace of God, in the last five years, over 500 missionaries from Ahmadiyya institutions across the world have graduated, these young missionaries have dedicated their life for the service of Islam and Ahmadiyyat; with the mission of spreading the true and peaceful teachings of Islam and serving humanity, which is the true Jihad – the Jihad of peace & love.
The author is a young Imam and Missionary who graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK in 2013.