On July 16, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, convened at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA, for the 62nd Jalsa Salana, the Annual Convention. It was a three-day conference which ended on July 18, and was attended by 6,130 members. Men and women from all over the USA and all walks of life gathered together for a weekend of spiritual rejuvenation. Amongst the attendees, there were also members of the Ahmadiyya Community from other parts of the globe, such as, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
The Jalsa Salana was initiated by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, in 1891. According to him the purpose of this convention is “to enable every sincere individual to personally experience religious benefits.” He further said, “Among its secondary benefits is that this congregational meeting together will promote mutual introduction among all brothers, and it will strengthen the fraternal ties within this Community.”
Samina Malik of Germantown, MD, a mother of three boys, has been attending the Jalsa Salana every year. She said, “It’s a spiritual experience that I look forward to each year and hope and pray that Allah will accept my prayers and help me better myself.”
Dhiya Bakr of Zion, Illinois, came to the conference with her family. They drove 13 hours to the Expo Center. “I look forward to this event every year. I was so determined to reach the Jalsa site that I drove for 8 hours at night which I usually don’t do. When my husband awakened, he couldn’t believe that we were already near the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Bakr said. She and her 19 year old daughter, Khalida Bakr, devoted their time as volunteers on the hosipitality team.
This conference is not like any others. All of the preparations, arrangements, and costs are solely managed by the members of the Community. Hundreds of volunteers dedicate countless numbers of hours before, during, and afte rthe convention. I had the honor of being one such volunteer. Those who take part in the volunteering during these conventions are blessed by God for their dedication.
In keeping with the Islamic teaching of “purdah” (segregation of genders), the men and women had separate areas. The women were able to listen to the speeches through audio speakers set throughout the hall. Projection screens were set up around the seating area so that the speakers could be seen through the audio/visual feed.
The women had a concurrent session on Saturday where the speeches were delivered by the members of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Communityh. Dr. Shanaz Butt, the National President of the auxiliary, gave the keynote speech on the topic of the importance of self-reformation in order to defend Islam. She exhorted the women to become true servants of God by becoming righteous. “If we claim to be Lajna Imaillah- The Maid Servants of Allah, then it is incumbent upon us to recognize the shackles that imprison us to this world, to improve in piety and taqwa (righteousness), honor our pledge, to serve others with patience and contentment, to preserve our chastity and raise the standards of modesty in ourselves, our homes, and the community we live in,” she said.
There were about 50 women guests who attended the convention. Gail Dawson of Fairfax, VA, an adjunct professor of religious studues at the Northern Virginia Community College, was one of them.
“This was the second time that I had the honor to be welcomed as a guest at the annual Jalsa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA. Each time I’ve come, not only has Shahina made sure that I, as a guest, was warmly welcomed, but also other women of the community greeted me and thanked me for coming,” Dawson said.
Fatima Thompson of Owings Mills, VA, an activist for women’s rights, was impressed by the speech delivered by Yasin Sharif who spoke about the modern challenges to core beliefs. “He pointed out that the rigidity of dogmatic religious communities and the use of the name of Islam or the name of Allah to perpetrate violence and oppression represents a serious challenge to peace for Muslims in the world. This statement really resounded with me, as a progressive Muslim, as my wish for our Muslim communities is that we find a way to live in peace with the societies in which we live,” Thompson said.
The convention concluded on Sunday morning. Dr. Ahsanullah Zafar, President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, summarized the proceedings of the conference and reminded the audience about the importance of prayers.