He is a world leading counter terrorism expert, has served as a senior officer in the UK Armed Forces and is now an academic in international relations at Loughborough University – but during the three days of Jalsa, Dr Afzal Ashraf serves as a volunteer in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association bookshop. Despite his illustrious career, it is clear he carries this position with immense pride.
‘I am lucky enough to be working in this position, I consider it a great honour!’
He temporarily vacates his position to give me a tour of this year’s stall, each section organised by a theme, with the spotlight on newly published material. Hundreds of books are on offer, including Qur’ans (with translation in multiple languages), writings of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, stories for children, publications on contemporary issues and much more.
Dr Ashraf pauses at the Qur’an section, drawing my attention towards a new batch recently published in Turkey. Encased with a slick cover that gracefully unfolds, the quality and legibility of the print is immediately clear.
‘The style and presentation of this Qur’an is absolutely superb. They would make the perfect gift!’
Leaving the bookshop, the remarkable diversity of volunteers that pull together to run Jalsa becomes ever more apparent. From wealthy businessmen that sign up to clean toilets, young children that keep guests hydrated on water duty, to medical professionals directing traffic, all sense of status or hierarchy are shunned on arrival, leaving statesmen and professors alike to seamlessly blend into the collective.