Last weekend East Hampshire was host to one of the largest religious gatherings in the UK.
Oaklands Farm, East Worldham, was again the backdrop for Jalsa Salana, a three day convention for 40,000 members of the British and international Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The siting of Jalsa in East Hants creates a connection that is now very firmly established.
The event itself is a huge undertaking, many months in the planning, with the catering alone a massive operation. Of course it does mean more traffic on local roads, but the organisation is incredibly impressive, with a huge number of volunteers making it run smoothly.
When we returned from Assissi at the end of last week the first thing I was after leaving the baggage reclaim hall in Heathrow was a man with a ‘Jalsa Salana’ sign. As we drove back to Hampshire, I saw with increasing frequency those yellow AA signs pointing the way, and I felt the anticipation of the event.
To see a community, especially one that has faced persecution around the world, come together in such numbers to celebrate love and friendship is a moving experience.
I had the honour of being invited to say a few words on Saturday afternoon and to welcome the many visitors to our wonderful part of England. I was one of five British MPs, but there were also parliamentarians from Canada and Indonesia – both have large Ahmadiyya communities – and elsewhere.
For those of you not familiar with this community, its world leader, HH Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is the fifth successor to this title. Ahmadiyya Muslims are now in 210 countries, including 130 individual branches here in the UK.
In this time of great global challenges, the work they do to promote cohesion and the common good has never been more relevant or more important.
I’m proud of our association in East Hants with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The siting of Jalsa Salana is at the heart of this, but there is more to it, too, including the proximity of the Mubarak Mosque in Tilford.
One of their key charitable activities is the ‘Walk for Peace’ which takes place in many places – including a couple of months ago here in East Hampshire. It helped raise money for 26 local good causes, but also builds bridges of understanding and ties of friendship.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim core values are best summed up by their mantra ‘love for all, hatred for none’.
Whether you’re religious or not, I think there is much we can learn from these few simple words.