Among the accounts and memorable incidents we received from participants of Jalsa Salana UK, we present below the personal account of a member of USA Jamaat who travelled to the UK for Jalsa Salana 2018.
With the Twinings at Breakfast in their Garden
Ahsan M Khan
Los Angeles, California, USA
The Jalsa Salana is a very blessed occasion and, in a tradition started by the Promised Messiahas himself, always brings out the most exemplary acts of hospitality and selflessness. At this year’s annual gathering in the UK, we experienced this in the most unexpected way.
My younger brother, Amjad, had booked a single room for the two of us at a nearby bed-and-breakfast many months ago when we decided to attend the Jalsa and get ahead of the rush. We were pleased because this well-known spot called Three Horseshoes had only a handful of rooms. And because it was the closest hotel to Hadiqatul Mahdi (the site of the Jalsa Salana), securing it was a rare feat.
But only a few weeks before the Jalsa, the reservation was cancelled because the owner, John Manning-Smith, had made a booking error, and their inn was oversold. He was sincere and thoughtful in his apology, and we didn’t fret.
We began making plans to secure tents and stay on the Jalsa grounds when, to my brother’s surprise, he got notified that John’s friends (a British couple) were willing to host us at their home for the weekend to resolve the predicament. And what was especially surprising was that these hosts lived even closer (only half a mile from the Jalsa) and insisted that we stay free of charge. It was an overwhelmingly gracious offer, which we accepted.
On the eve of Jalsa, we journeyed from Los Angeles to England and finally made it to the home and met our unlikely Jalsa hosts, Robin and Nicky Twining. Mr Twining was a semi-retired consultant who now directed a few charities, and his wife Dr Twining was a recently-retired medical doctor. Mr Twining shared the namesake of one of the oldest and most well-known British tea-making brands, Twinings, established by his ancestors in 1706.
Their house, called Goldings Estate, was a beautiful country home decorated with a vibrant, meticulously manicured flower garden and a breath-taking backyard view of the Hampshire countryside overlooking a pond, tall trees, meandering trails and a round green hill, behind which was the iconic Jalsa tent city of Hadiqatul Mahdi. While we couldn’t see the Jalsa site from the home, we were close enough that we could hear the distant echoes of Jalsa announcements and see the long queue of cars, vans and double-decker Jalsa shuttles backing up along the main road directly in front of the driveway. Our hosts made sure we were comfortable in every way and gave us a key to the house for us to enter and exit during the weekend as we pleased.
Because the main common road from the Twinings’ home to Hadiqatul Mahdi about a half mile up was narrow and busy, we instead walked to and from the Jalsa through a public footpath through the back countryside – a unique feature of the Twinings’ home that even Three Horseshoes could not offer. It was a serene 15-minute stroll along a pond, through a forest of Douglas Fir trees and then a thick short wheat-field, finally up and around King John Hill (named after King John of Magna Carta fame who once had a hunting lodge there in the thirteenth century). The path took us directly to the top of the back end of the Jalsa car park, where a security tent was pitched and two Khuddam on duty, admittedly surprised to see pedestrian Jalsa attendees approaching them from a back trail, diligently would check our IDs before letting us enter (a good test, indeed, for the Jalsa perimeter security team).
Mr Twining walked with us the first time, all the way to the Jalsa. Other times he kindly dropped us off in his car to ensure we would make it to the start of the programme on time.
To attend Fajr Salat behind Huzooraa, we walked to Hadiqatul Mahdi in the quiet predawn darkness with a small torchlight. And walked back with fresh Langar chai in hand, as the breaking dawn awoke birds and cast a serene glow on the misty meadows.
In the mornings, Mrs Twining prepared for us a wondrous English-style breakfast, with fresh fruit and Twinings tea (of course). We had lovely conversations before heading off to Jalsa, during which we shared our Jalsa experiences and memories, and they shared anecdotes of their amazing travels around the world. Their trips to remote places had taught them to appreciate the rich diversity of culture, language and religion, they told us. Hosting us was a way for them to reciprocate this experience, by opening their homes and hearts to guests of the event which turns their small town into a global village every summer.
Amjad Mahmood Khan strolls with Mr Twining to Jalsa through the back footpath
Mr and Mrs Twining were already very aware of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community when we introduced ourselves. They had moved to this home in Alton 21 years ago and recall every Jalsa since it arrived in their town twelve years prior. They remember the very first one, the ones with torrential rains, the unusually warm ones, and all the rest in between. They even attended four of them and marvelled at the steady rise in attendance every year. They regularly tune in to Jalsa Radio every year during the Jalsa, and were fully versed in the Jamaats core beliefs, outreach programmes and long history of persecution. In our conversations, they used the term Jalsa Salana very casually and matter-of-factly, rather than referring to it as “your convention”. The Jalsa Salana, after all, was not just a part of their town, but also their lives.
The entire experience of staying at this home during the Jalsa was surreal to say the least. Our hosts refused to take payment, but after our repeated insistence, they finally suggested we donate instead to Humanity First, a charity they themselves learned about during their visits to the Jalsa Salana over the years. It was a noble and thoughtful suggestion. Before bidding farewell on Sunday, we were able to gift them with some Humanity First merchandise purchased from the Jalsa stall and thereby honour their wish in the best way we could think of, with those proceeds also going to charitable work as was their desire. In addition to this humble token of appreciation, we also promised to pray for them. After all, those who host guests at the Jalsa Salana are indeed recipients of God’s blessings.
View of the meadows at dawn after Fajr between the residence and Hadiqatul Mahdi
During the Friday Sermon on the inaugural day of Jalsa, Huzooraa discussed, among other things, the importance of being mindful of the rights of neighbours and being gracious hosts during the days of Jalsa. When the Twinings specifically learned that Huzooraa had taken the time to remind all 38,000-plus Jalsa attendees to be mindful of the fire dangers of dry neighbouring grounds, they expressed deep appreciation as mutual hosts. By the grace of God, it was these very neighbours of the Jalsa Salana who were demonstrating the heights of hospitality to us, out of a love for the gathering started by the Promised Messiahas 127 years ago in a village thousands of miles away.
The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas once wrote, “You must not rank this convention in the same league as other, ordinary, human assemblies.” (Majmu‘ah Ishtiharat, Vol. 1, p. 341) Indeed, on a midsummer weekend in a house in the Hampshire countryside next to the Garden of the Messiah, we witnessed this in an extraordinary way.