Jalsa Salana, the Annual Conventions of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, hold a special significance for Ahmadi Muslims. They are not just religious conventions, but a time when one’s faith is rejuvenated through the blessings of attendance. The UK Jalsa has a special importance as an international event, attracting around 30,000 attendees.
This year, that was not to be, due to the limitations on gatherings imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, while Ahmadis who would have otherwise attended the three-day convention at Hadeeqatul Mahdi in Hampshire could not be there in person, a special three-day Jalsa event is being hosted via the Jama’at’s satellite television network, MTA International.
Sarah Waseem from the Review of Religions spoke to Raza Ahmed, an Ahmadi Muslim Missionary in the UK who is also a presenter on MTA International.
S: Will you be hosting some of those live presentations that usually happen at Jalsa? What will you be doing?
R: I have the honour of being in Islamabad where there will be a live link to the main studios, to give some of that flavour of Jalsa to the people sitting at home, who will want to know what’s happening in Islamabad and what’s happening in Hadeeqatul Mahdi. Qamar Zafar (a missionary) will be reporting from Hadeeqatul Mahid.
S: As a presenter, can you tell us more about what’s happening this year at Jalsa?
R: So, this year, because we couldn’t have a Jalsa where everybody could come together, MTA is recreating that Jalsa feeling, to give some of that special Jalsa atmosphere to the viewers at home. We are doing a recap of the Jalsa of 2019 but it is not just the UK Jalsa. Throughout the three days, MTA International is going to play various speeches and different addresses that have been given by Hazur-e-Anwar (aba) in different countries. And throughout, there will be live broadcasts from the studio at Baitul Futuh in London, with links to Islamabad and Hadeeqatul Mahdi. All of this will be presented in three different languages. Usually, during Jalsa we would have 3 different studios but this year it is all 3 languages in one studio. Between that, there will be some documentaries and some repeats from last year. There will also be some short pieces from this year. But as we heard in Hazur’s (aba) khutba (Friday sermon), the highlight is going to be Hazur (aba) speaking to everyone, live from Islamabad on Sunday Insha’Allah.
S: Whats happening in Islamabad by way of Jalsa preparation?
R: I went there today. There are some workers there. The langar (communal kitchen) is open. I had daal chawal today ( lentils and rice – traditional Jalsa food). Apart from that, the office workers from Islamabad are there and the Jamia students ( from the Ahmadiyya Religious Seminary) are on duty. You see them quite a lot. Mash’Allah they are doing a really fantastic job!
S: How did it feel when you did your first report from Hadeeqatul Mahdi? [Raza Ahmed presented a short video from the empty Jalsa site reflecting on how it looked].
R: That was really something, to be honest! Normally with MTA, we take various shots and have a few attempts at filming but the reaction I had on that video was very, very genuine. We drove up in our cars but I didn’t turn around until I was at the top [hill where all cars are parked during Jalsa] and I have done that view a lot of times in MTA every morning or the evening and it’s filled with cars. But this time it was empty, it was just clean, and the purest green I have ever seen. It was just amazing. It looked a lot bigger than usual.
S: How did you feel looking back at that empty space?
R: It was sad. It was definitely sad because everyone was looking forward to this Jalsa and everything was just perfect, the weather was playing along, the location was there. Everything was just perfect but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It is a sad occasion. Then again, Hazur (aba) always takes care of us and he’s given time from his schedule on Sunday to do a live speech. There are a million other things that he could be doing but he knows how important it is for the Jama’at to have that kind of feeling once a year. The UK Jalsa is an international Jalsa. It’s not a UK thing anymore.
S: What are your feelings about this Jalsa and how it has been put together. Are you getting into the Jalsa spirit now?
R: (laughs ) I actually am, because when you work with MTA it’s quite busy. In the run-up to the live transmissions as well, you have the meetings beforehand and you go through the running order and you go through the schedules that give you a little sneak peek of what Jalsa should be like. For me, it’s about 60–70 % of that Jalsa spirit.
S: What are you most looking forward to in all of this?
R: To be honest when I went to Islamabad today, it was the highlight for me. Living in the UK and not seeing Hazur (aba) and not being in Hazur’s (aba) presence and not being in Islamabad in or in the Mubarak Mosque for six months [due to Covid19 restrictions on gatherings], that was a very long time. So, I was so happy, so grateful that because of MTA, because of the blessings of MTA, I have the honour of serving in this capacity, I could go to Islamabad.
Then again, Sunday Insh’Allah we’ll see Hazur (aba) live and that will be the cherry on top!