Dr Talha Rashid, Secretary External Affairs, Jamaat France
On 12 November 2022, around 100 members of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya France gathered at the Mubarak Mosque in Saint-Prix to participate in discussions with veterans on “Patriotism and the Duty of Remembrance”.
The discussions were preceded by a ceremony of homage to those who sacrificed their lives for the country, during which children and young people wore the bleuet de France and waved the tricolour flag. The tribute was followed by a minute’s silence, a Marseillaise recited in chorus by all the children and the anthem of the NATO Memorial Foundation.
The Deputy Mayor of Saint-Prix, Mr Christophe Sefrin, and several members of different municipal councils of neighbouring towns were present to attend these discussions and speeches.
The programme started with the recitation from the Holy Quran, followed by a welcome speech by the missionary-in-charge, Naseer Ahmad Shahid Sahib, who emphasised the importance given in Islam to patriotism and service to one’s country.
These exchanges were moderated by Willy Breton, President of the NATO Memorial Foundation and Jean-Marc Leclerc, President of the Union Nationale des Combattants du Val d’Oise, both are veterans.
During his speech, Willy Breton shared what motivated him 10 years ago to work to build a NATO Memorial. The idea came to him to create a memorial dedicated to the memory of the soldiers (military, police and gendarmes) who had sacrificed their lives in the service of NATO and he decided to offer it to them.
Jean-Marc Leclerc shared with the children the importance of the duty of remembrance; remembering those who died for our country. He went back over the definition of patriotism, what it means to be French, and the symbols of the republic such as the flag, the French motto, and the Marseillaise. He also shared with the children the history of different wars and why it was important to remember them, and he concluded his speech with the story of foreigners who sacrificed their lives for our country.
The children had the opportunity to ask many questions of the speakers.
Amir Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya France delivered the concluding speech, followed by a silent prayer.
Following the closure of the discussions, the children and young people gathered around the speakers to ask any further questions they had.
Willy Breton, a veteran and President of the NATO Memorial Foundation, said:
“I am very happy to have participated because I was speaking to young people who are French and who will perhaps be future reservists, soldiers and therefore brothers in arms of another Frenchman in a theatre of operation, where they will also be together to protect our freedom and peace.
“The notion of the fatherland does not stop at a colour, a religion or a social rank, but I felt that these young people were really invested in this subject that you have set up today and it was very important for them and their questions were diverse, I was frankly astonished and we feel that this generation is interested in the notion of the fatherland. They are the ones who will make our future, who will make France.
“I am very happy. It was a first for me (in a mosque) because we are used to going to certain places to evoke the duty of remembrance and I am very happy to participate on this day today and when I was asked to come here, I signed with both hands. Thank you very much.”
Jean-Marc Leclerc, a veteran and President of the Union Nationale des Combattants (UNC) du Val d’Oise, said:
“I would like to thank the association for its exceptional welcome, I did not expect this. The highlight of the day was when the young people sang the Marseillaise, which touched me enormously, I saw that everyone knew the words. Every time I hear it, I get chills, but that touched me enormously, and then, in the mosque of the association, to come and talk about the duty of remembrance, among other things, the role of the Indian army in different wars, the place was a bit magical with something supernatural.
“It’s true that we rarely talk about the duty of remembrance in a place of worship, so the fact that it was in the mosque also touched me enormously. The welcome was exceptional. What surprised me was the thanks, I did not expect to be thanked so much, and the kindness. Being French is easy, it’s loving France and you prove it. Unfortunately, the Muslim religion is not well known in France, the French should perhaps look a little more into your religion, which is also similar to the Christian religion, we have the same God and we have many prophets in common.”
Marie-Hélène Lepage, Secretary General of the NATO Memorial Foundation, expressed:
“I really liked the children’s questions, which were simple and natural. […] It was a nice exchange, as usual and it is not the first time I have come (to one of your events). Thank you very much for the invitation.”
Goulam Djany, a veteran and a member of the UNC of Val d’Oise, said:
“I really liked the attention that the children paid throughout this programme, throughout the intervention of each person, the listening they had and the curiosity they had. I really liked that and the way the children asked questions about the values of France and the flag and about the First World War. Unfortunately, when we see at sports events or elsewhere the Marseillaise is not sung by the people, so today when I saw that Muslim children were singing the Marseillaise in a mosque, I was very moved, frankly, I tell you sincerely that at this age the children sang the Marseillaise by heart and without a mistake, this is a point that must be emphasised.”
David, a member of Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) expressed:
“I was already surprised at first to see so many veterans and to see so many children who were interested, who even had questions. It just impressed me to see that young people were asking questions like, ‘Why was France founded?’ and ‘Why is the flag blue white and red?’ […] You could say that these children might only think of having the latest toy, but in fact, they have interests, they are interested in this country and that is what I found really magnificent.
“I did not expect this at all, already when I came back, I was very surprised to see the big flags and I found it really, really good. I really encourage you to continue in this direction with the peace work you are doing because I did not expect it at all in a mosque and I have never seen this in a mosque and I’ve never heard about it before so it was really good what you are doing.”
Grégoire Dublineau, former mayor of Eaubonne, said:
“I was impressed by the quality of the speakers and by the interest of the young people, but also, once again, by the quality of your organisation. It was a beautiful exchange, rich in meaning and full of hope and peace. Congratulations to the whole community.”
Jean-Pierre Enjalbert, member of the municipal council and former mayor of Saint-Prix, expressed:
“Thank you for your invitation. I was delighted to attend this moment of exchange with curious and attentive children. The veterans were right to insist on the need to glorify the memory of each of our ancestors.”
This event is only the first of a long series of events that Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya France will organise throughout the year, insha-Allah, in order to make our children aware of the duty of remembrance and the importance Islam gives to patriotism and service to our country.