Jalsa Salana: A unifying platform in face of challenges of modernity

Iftekhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre


The human being is widely regarded as a zoon politikon – a social being – embodying a nature that thrives in communal interactions. This assertion contains a variety of implications; however, of particular interest to us in this context is how Islamic teachings, with their emphasis on unity and harmony, have ingeniously adapted to various social arrangements, especially in tandem with the realm of worship. Through these elaborate arrangements, Muslims come together not only to perform their religious duties, but also to draw moral and spiritual strength, engage in meaningful discussions about current issues, align their personal and communal goals that require social interactions, and develop strategies together to cope with life’s difficulties.

Structures of gathering

At the neighbourhood level, Muslims are called upon to participate in the five daily obligatory prayers in their local mosques, which promotes a sense of belonging and the fulfilment of religious duties at this local level. In addition, the weekly Friday prayer brings people together at the main mosque and unites them at a larger city, district, or county level. The twice-yearly Eid prayers represent an even larger and wider gathering that involves an even more diverse community. Finally, ‘umrah, the minor pilgrimage, which one may participate in several times in a lifetime, and, hajj, the major pilgrimage, which is an essential religious duty once in a lifetime if one is able to, witness an unprecedented gathering that reinforces community.

Jalsa Salana and its legitimacy

Considering Islam’s claim of perfection in all respects for all times and places and the aforementioned arrangements it has bestowed upon us, one might wonder about the existence and raison d’être of the Jalsa Salana. However, as the sands of time flow inexorably, each age presents its own challenges and demands. Therefore, interpretations and organisational structures pertaining to these arrangements have always naturally evolved throughout history. The present age is no exception. Under the enlightened guidance of the Imam of our time, the Promised Messiahas and Just Arbiter foretold by the Messengersa of Allah, these arrangements, which are based on the core principles of the Quran and the sunnah, persist unchanged in their entirety, and, only where applicable, are adeptly adjusted through legal reasoning (ijtihad) to align with the contemporary context.

The advent of global modernity coincided with the collapse of Muslim empires and the rise of nation-states, necessitating the establishment of a new type of gathering at yet another level, viz., the national level, to address the challenges of this era. To fill this gap, the Promised Messiahas, inspired by Allah Almighty, introduced the Jalsa Salana.

Against this background, the legitimacy of the Jalsa Salana can be firmly established within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence, based on at least two fundamental maxims of Islamic legal theory. The first maxim states:

ما لا يتم الواجب إلا به فهو واجب

“What is a sine qua non for the fulfilment of an obligation is itself an obligation.”

This means that something that is absolutely necessary for fulfilling a religious duty becomes a duty itself, i.e., if there is a requirement or condition that must be met to properly carry out an obligation, fulfilling that requirement also becomes obligatory. Thus, the objectives behind the appearance of the Promised Messiahas and the establishment of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat undeniably make the organisation of the Jalsa Salana an imperative obligation.

For those who may perceive this as an arbitrary extension of Islamic law, a second maxim provides valuable guidance, stating:

لا ينكر تغير الأحكام بتغير الأزمان

“There is no denying that legal rulings change with the changing times.”

Indeed, the current age of modernity is very different from all previous eras and requires adjustments to meet the unique challenges and complexities that arise.

Resisting the lure of modernity and the Antichrist

Our current era is characterised by its lack of precedent, necessitating measures without precedent. In view of the present times, the Messengersa of Allah prophesied that, at the time of the Second Coming of Jesusas:

حتى تكون السجدة الواحدة خير من الدنيا وما فيها

“Eventually, even a single prostration will be better than the whole world and all that is in it”. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

He also said:

ما بين خلق آدم إلى أن تقوم الساعة فتنة أكبر من فتنة الدجال

“From the creation of Adam until the Hour is established, there is no greater tribulation than the tribulation of the Antichrist.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Thus, we find ourselves in an age of unparalleled trials and tribulations, which have currently culminated in the return of Jesusas and the ongoing final battle between the forces of good and evil, the battle against ad-dajjal – the Antichrist.

The characteristic features of our unprecedented era, which is dissimilar to all previous epochs, can be gleaned, besides the first ten, from the last ten verses of the eighteenth chapter of the Holy Quran, Surat al-Kahf. The recitation or memorisation of these verses offers, as declared by Allah’s Messengersa, protection from the Antichrist. (Sahih Muslim)

In Islamic teachings, the Antichrist embodies a latter-day phenomenon of great deception and perversion that will seek to lead people astray from the path of righteousness. The challenges of modernity have striking parallels with the characteristics associated with the Antichrist in the last ten verses of Surat al-Kahf. The increasing prevalence of godlessness and moral decay in today’s world is consistent with the spirit of the Antichrist and leads to a sense of nihilism where the meaning and purpose of life are questioned.

Modernity has ushered in an era of individualism and radical autonomy, leading to a dwindling influence of moral authorities and institutions. In times past, parental and religious leadership played a pivotal role in imparting values, but today’s individuals find themselves increasingly detached and instrumentalized by market forces. The pervasive culture industry, with its mass media, mass market, and mass consumption, has permeated every facet of life, leaving people adrift in an overwhelming sea of influences. Consequently, a moral void has emerged, giving rise to widespread disorientation and a proliferation of values that lack a shared foundation. This situation has led to a dearth of common purpose and a decline in fostering empathy, cooperation, and social cohesion. The absence of a strong ethical underpinning hampers individuals and communities from effectively addressing critical societal issues and forging meaningful connections with one another. As a result, societies grapple with an ongoing struggle to establish a collective sense of purpose and shared values that can withstand the turbulent nature of modernity’s ever-changing influences.

The Promised Messiah’sas teachings have further illuminated the meaning of the last ten verses of Surah al-Kahf and provided insights into how to meet the challenges of modernity and confront the Antichrist. The Promised Messiahas, in keeping with his primary divine mission, spoke strongly for the reconciliation of man with God. Reflecting on his teachings, it becomes clear how important it is to reconnect with one’s spiritual being and strive for true freedom through detachment from the market-driven world.

By acknowledging the harmful influences of modernity and striving to strengthen our faith and moral foundations, we can protect ourselves from the lure of the Antichrist’s deception. Emancipation from the pervasive influences of modern society is a prerequisite for true freedom and fulfilment. By reconnecting deeply with our spiritual values and understanding the meaning of our existence, we can resist the lure of nihilism and find a meaningful path to liberation from the shackles of the modern world. In so doing, we embrace the teachings of the Promised Messiahas and save our souls from the misleading path of the Antichrist.

While modernity has its merits, it is crucial for us to recognise both its benefits and challenges. It is all about how we choose to utilize and channel its advancements, ensuring that they serve the greater purpose, as intended by the Promised Messiahas. Embracing the teachings of Islam and nurturing a strong ethical underpinning can help us navigate the trials of modernity while upholding our values and fostering a sense of unity and purpose.

Role of Jalsa Salana

In this endeavour, the Jalsa Salana plays a central role. By inculcating Islamic values, it contributes not only to the spiritual capital, ultimately paving the way for salvation in the afterlife, but also to the social capital of Ahmadi Muslims, promoting compassion and altruism.

The great importance of both gathering and worship in the face of the Antichrist and the challenges of modernity underscores the need for the Jalsa Salana to provide a unifying platform for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat. The teachings of the Promised Messiahas resonate with profound wisdom that offers a path to liberation from the pitfalls of contemporary society. As we navigate the uncharted waters of modernity, it becomes increasingly important to heed what the Jalsa Salana teaches us, such as compassion in action, strengthening social bonds, spiritual enlightenment, promoting community service, etc.

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