One of the many great features of Jalsa Salana, is that this event is organised and conducted solely on the efforts of volunteers. Often, guests who attend the Jalsa Salana are amazed by the fact that such an elaborate and grand convention is conducted through volunteer work. In order to capture that volunteer spirit, The Review of Religions spoke to one of the volunteers helping to prepare for Jalsa Salana UK 2021; Irfan Ahmed, who is the assistant co-ordinator for Site Reserve Two.
Can you describe what your duty this year at Jalsa entails, and when it began?
Yes, the nizamat [department], which I work for, is called ‘Site Reserve Two’ which is normally responsible for putting carpets in the marquees. So, in short, you can see there are literally so many marquees in the Jalsa site and each one will have a carpet, and that carpet will be fixed by our nizamat. Any residence or accommodation marquees, the entrance and any other site, the scanning marquees, all those marquees will have carpets and that is done by us. The Afsar [‘officer’ or ‘head’] Jalsa team itself choose the carpet and we are provided with it.
Sometimes we do fence work on the inside, but mainly it is to put the carpets in.
What does the fence work entail? What do you fence off?
Normally, in the car park, around the Jalsa site, you have to fence off the areas. Let’s say you need to fence the lajna residence area so nobody can come in from outside, so that also falls in our area of work, in our nizamat as well.
How many people are in your team?
Right now, we have around 7 people in our team.
There are only 7 people for all of those tents?
Yes, the level of work this year is about 20-25% capacity compared to the normal Jalsa pre-Covid. Normally our team is around 20 people, but because of the number of people coming to the Jalsa this year, there are so many marquees which are not being put up, you won’t see any exhibition marquees like you normally see, so many stalls and so many other marquees are not going to be put up this year because of the covid restrictions, and that’s why the work is not as much, and the team is reduced to 6 to 7 people only.
So, you are quite lucky that you get to be part of this. In further detail, how does your work differ this year than that of the preparations for the previous Jalsa in 2019?
I just gave you one example, that this year we have already done around 11 to 12 marquees and we have around 8 more marquees to do. So, we will probably do around 20 odd marquees this year, but normally (outside of the pandemic) the number of marquees we do is between 60-80.
For the people reading and anticipating Jalsa, are the marquees smaller in size or is anything else different, when you went into the site and saw everything, how is the layout – is it the same as in previous years?
The layout is the same. You will only see the difference of there being fewer marquees in number. But in terms of size and everything, it is pretty much the same. For example, the main Jalsa Gah marquee is pretty much the same size. The number of people is obviously less, but they will have to have a greater distance between them. Let me give you an example, you normally have exhibition marquees which you can visit after the Jalsa programmes, you always have a marquee for ‘Humanity First’ and ‘Review of Religions’ where you can see information on the Shroud of Turin. So, all these various marquees holding exhibitions will not be there.
So, these are the main differences that the guests of the Promised Messiah (as) will be seeing when they arrive, the fact that there are fewer marquees, but not necessarily that they are smaller?
Yes, they will definitely have less activity, you will see the programme of Jalsa will be the same, but people won’t find many activities to do after the Jalsa like the exhibitions mentioned, there won’t be a bazaar anymore this year, that’s obviously a massive thing to notice, but otherwise there will be the food marquees.
What has been the greatest challenge in your work this year?
Mainly, it’s the fact that we have less time. Normally, we have a few weeks in advance that we prepare the Jalsa site, but because of Covid restrictions being lifted on 19th July, that time frame was shorter – even on 19th July we weren’t sure about what was going to happen, because that’s when everything was announced by the Prime Minister of the UK, so we had literally a couple of weeks to prepare in between. And also, the number of people who are involved because the size of Jalsa itself is limited. So that’s the main thing, though the work is comparatively less compared to the last Jalsa, but still, considering the time frame and number of people, it’s still a big ask, but Alhamdulillah (All praise belongs to Allah) we are coping well.
How will your duty proceed across the 3 Jalsa days and after it comes to an end on Sunday, will you still be continuing to do any kind of work?
Normally our job finishes one day before Jalsa because obviously, all the marquees have to be ready before the guests arrive. But sometimes during the Jalsa’s three-day period, let’s say the weather is a little bit dodgy, there is rain and certain marquees get flooded, or they get dirty or something and the carpet needs to be changed, we are always on standby, but otherwise during the 3 days of Jalsa we don’t have much to do, our work is before Jalsa. But again, after Jalsa we have to clear the whole area ourselves, that’s also part of our job. To clear the marquees and the carpets which we can utilise again for next year, we need to tidy them, roll them and place them somewhere safely, for use during any ijtemas and the next Jalsa. This is part of our yearly process, as we don’t use brand new carpets every year, so the carpet we use this year, we will keep it safe if it’s in good condition, make sure it doesn’t get dirty or wet so it can be used in the future. All these things need to be kept in mind- which is a big job again, even cleaning them on-site without professional help.
Will you be at Hadeeqatul Mahdi during the 3 days?
Yes, I will be there all 3 days, because as a team we have to be on-site. As I mentioned, if the need arises even for a new marquee to be set up or in an emergency, then we are the ones who need to be there to set up the carpeting. If I give you an example, when the weather gets really hot and people tend to stay outside (though this year it is different) and they sit under the shade, even that place needs a carpet, as people have to say their prayers. If management asks us to help, then we are always ready.
What are you looking forward to most about Jalsa Salana UK 2021? You’re one of the very few people who will have been able to attend this really historic, once in a lifetime event, how do you feel about that?
On a personal note, obviously seeing Huzoor-e-Anwar (His Holiness) (aba) physically after nearly two years is a big thing for us, so that is the main thing, our main objective. And we have been listening to Huzoor (His Holiness) (aba) on MTA but listening to him in person is obviously something you can’t compare to anything else. And also, the environment of Jalsa, the spirituality during the Jalsa, you can’t get it anywhere else, so these the aspects I look forward to most.
Can you tell me a little bit about the atmosphere that is at Hadeeqatul Mahdi right now? A lot of people who aren’t involved in the setup like yourself, are at home and some of them will be travelling to Jalsa on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or they will be watching from home. But you have been going there and you’ve been meeting the other duty workers. Can you give us a little bit of an insight into what the atmosphere is like, how is everyone doing there, what’s going on and what people’s emotions are?
I think everybody I have met is, Alhamdulliah (all praise belongs to Allah) very excited and happy that we are going to hold another Jalsa, which is part of our way of life as Ahmadi Muslims. It is perhaps the main event of the whole year for us. Though the weather conditions are not great right now in the UK, people who are there are excited, they have energy, working in the rain to make everything ready for this Jalsa before the guests start arriving. So, the atmosphere is fantastic, you see smiles on their faces. Though their clothes may be dirty, their shoes are full of mud, still, I have seen people still working and greeting friends who they haven’t seen for a couple of years, so it has been an amazing experience. And people have come from all over the UK to do waqar-e-amal.