On 14 March 2015 over 1,000 people convened on Western Europe’s largest mosque—the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, Surrey—for the annual Peace Symposium held by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Government Ministers, Members of Parliament, MEPs (members of the European Parliament), civic dignitaries and guests from all corners of the globe gathered for the annual celebration of peace, and to also listen to the keynote address delivered by the Worldwide Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad[aba].
Guest speeches were made by various dignitaries, including MP for Mitcham and Morden, Siobhain McDonagh; The Rt. Hon. Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development; The Rt. Hon. Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group; and former Vice-President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Community, The Rt. Hon. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. A special address was given by Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. As a practising Catholic, Ms. McDonagh quoted Pope Francis’ recent comments in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
“If my good friend says a cursed word against my mother, he can expect a punch. You cannot provoke; you cannot insult the faith of others; you cannot make fun of the faith of others.
We live in a world where we must be constantly vigilant. We must protect the freedom of others to live with dignity and follow their religious beliefs. I applaud and support the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with its total commitment to peace and interfaith harmony.”
Former Vice-President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Community The Rt. Hon. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon opened his guest speech in referring to his Ministerial role within Government as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities (and Local Government), and the tessellation which that brought in his personal faith as an Ahmadiyya Muslim. He said:
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is one that has led on integration, one that has led on community cohesion and perhaps there is something divine in that I have the great honour now as the Minister responsible in Her Majesty’s Government to do just that—to build on cohesion between our communities across all religions and all faiths, and in this regard the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been at the cutting edge under the inspirational leadership of His Holiness.
“When we saw the despicable attacks in France, when we were appalled by the acts of so-called Muslims who claimed to act under the name of Islam across Iraq and Syria, the voice which His Holiness raised across the world was a voice of peace, a voice of humanity, a voice of integration, a voice of mutual respect in faith; the voice of the true Islam.
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is exemplary that it has never let circumstance dictate its course. Why? Because it has always done the right thing—whether it is peaceful times we are living through, or challenging times as we are now, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been exemplary in spreading its message of not just tolerance— because that is a basic human tenet— but of mutual respect and understanding of all faiths.”
The annual Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace was awarded to Sapkal Sinduthai Shrihari for her tireless work in helping orphaned children. In spite of her humble beginnings and means, it is estimated that during her lifetime she has helped and raised over 1,000 children whom, without her help, would not have had the chances in life they have been able to enjoy. Some have grown up to become doctors, lawyers and attain professional careers. Known as the ‘Mother of Orphans’ in her native Pune, India, Sapkal still to this day begs for food for the needs of her orphaned children, and in spite of receiving many awards worldwide uses the funds that are awarded to further the needs of orphaned children.
The highlight of the evening for many was the keynote speech from His Holiness. He was firm in his message, giving the resolute stance that the subject of terrorism is something for all faiths to stand against.
Reflecting on his message at the previous Peace Symposium in 2014, he said:
“It is certainly my personal hope that our efforts have had some positive impact in the world. Nevertheless, despite our collective aspirations for peace, the truth is that much of the world is continuing to spiral towards a state of further conflict, disorder and darkness. On a positive note, since our last Peace Symposium there seems to be one small ray of light flickering in the distance and which gives rise to a note of cautious optimism.
One of the points I made at the last Peace Symposium was that the world should urgently target and seek to block the funding and supply-line of the terrorist group known as ISIS or I.S. I do not claim that it is because of me, or the fact that I drew attention to this matter, but certainly over the past few months there have been tangible efforts to tackle this crucial issue. For example, in February, the United Nations Security-Council unanimously passed a Resolution directly targeting the funding of ISIS and ordering sanctions to be levied on any groups who sought to illegally purchase oil from it or engage in any other form of trade. If this Resolution is properly implemented then, as I have said before, I believe that it will not take years to defeat ISIS, but rather its cruelties can be brought to an end in a matter of months.”
Referring to the establishment orchestrated by ISIS and analysing the complete absence of Islamic faith in their barbaric actions, he added:
“This is a cause of extreme sorrow for true Muslims as they know that such heinous acts have no link whatsoever to their religion.
Recently, a French journalist, who had been kept as a prisoner by ISIS for ten months before being released, spoke about his experiences whilst in captivity. He said that he never saw a copy of the Qur’an during his entire time as a prisoner of ISIS, and when he asked the terrorists how they justified beheading people and their various other cruelties, they never had any answers. They would simply say that they were enforcing their will as they pleased and would continue to do so.”
His Holiness was unwavering in his defence of the freedom of speech, but countered that with that freedom also comes responsibility. Reflecting on the murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, France, he continued:
“It was a horrifying attack and completely against the teachings of Islam. When the issue of free speech arose in the days that followed, Pope Francis said that we should not provoke one another or insult each other’s faiths. He said that the dignity of each faith and religion should be respected and that we should speak for the common good.
He very rightly said that even if his very good friend uttered a bad word against his mother, he should expect a punch in return. In my personal view this was a very wise and intelligent statement and an effort by the Pope to support religious freedom and tolerance. Anyway, in terms of extremism, let it be absolutely clear that wherever and whenever anyone seeks to justify their hate-filled atrocities or injustices in the name of Islam they should be condemned. Let it also be very clear that such acts have no relation whatsoever to the true and peaceful teachings of Islam.”
Concluding that the problem of terrorism, and the responsibility to eradicate it is a worldwide problem, His Holiness said:
“Radicalisation is therefore a serious problem for the United Kingdom, for Europe and indeed the wider world […] it is not just the Muslim world that should be worried about the current state of affairs. Rather, it is a cause of serious alarm for the entire world because if the extremists who have gone abroad return to their countries of origin, it could lead to dire consequences and potentially great danger to that society.”
It is indeed evident that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community under the leadership of His Holiness are making ardent attempts to conquer the blight currently upon the Islamic faith due to the atrocities by groups such as ISIS. This is obvious here in the UK with the wider publication of charity work done by the Ahmadiyya; their community work and also an increasing willingness to engage with all faiths in all walks of life.
Denouncing the hatred which is often spewed through into the mainstream media through the radicalism and actions of others who claim to be Muslim, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community favour the more peaceable example in their works and daily lives. Indeed their motto ‘Love For All, Hatred For None’is borne out in their continued efforts to bring about peace within their communities. His Holiness brought to the table a potential solution to the eradication of radicalism in the United Kingdom by the forming of relationships with policy-makers and local governance and communities to form a framework to combat extremism from within; and it will be of note whether this message is one which is returned to Government by the distinguished political guests who attended the event in Morden.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have handled heavy burden before—their persecution from Pakistan in 1974 which brought about the relocation of their Jama’at to the UK was a cornerstone moment in the history of their faith; but in the midst of that persecution the Community have stood firm, continued to grow, and have established themselves in over 206 countries around the globe. Their efforts in highlighting the true peaceable teachings of Islam will no doubt continue unabated throughout these current testing times when Islam is facing a real and tangible backlash from communities in many corners of the world—backlash which is already being felt on the streets of the United Kingdom with a surge in membership to extremist far-right groups. What was once a relatively small voice in world faith has grown to tackle this issue head-on, but as a nation this country must play a part in making sure that all faiths come together and combine the efforts of one and all, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or otherwise to snuff out the flame of hatred once and for all.
About the author: Lynda Bowyer is an NUJ (National Union of Journalists) registered independent freelance journalist and press photographer. Specialising in social, cultural, political and religious affairs, her work seeks to unearth injustice and provoke thought. An ardent promoter of equality and fairness, Lynda aims to speak up for those in society who feel they have no voice. In particular, Lynda has done extensive work with various charity groups and homeless initiatives in and around the Thames Valley. Forthcoming work will seek to unearth the prevalence of FGM taking place in the UK, in addition to a continuation of her existing work with Muslim groups to tackle the distorted mainstream view of religious extremism in Britain. Her work, both written and photographic, has appeared in many national and international news titles and periodicals, and Lynda has two exhibitions of social documentary photographic work planned for 2015. Samples of her photographic work can be found at www.lyndabowyerphotography.com, and she can be followed on twitter at