Raheel Ahmad, Missionary, History Department UK
The Jalsa Salana of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was initiated by the Promised Messiahas in 1891. What we know as the first ever Jalsa Salana of 1891 was in fact a gathering for a specific purpose.
The Promised Messiahas invited members of his Jamaat to come to Qadian for a consultation on a religious matter: to invite those opponents – who had either published edicts of disbelief against the Promised Messiahas or had supported it – to a method of identifying the truth.
The Promised Messiahas wrote Asmani Faisalah (The Heavenly Decree)in December 1891 and it intended to resolve the disputes between him and his adversaries. The Promised Messiahas had been inviting scholars to a discussion on the life and death of Jesusas as that was the key difference and the bone of contention of the entire dispute. Yet the only reply he received was from Maulvi Nazeer Husain and his acolyte, Muhammad Hussain Batalwi, who said that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas was not a Muslim and that they could only hold a discussion if he proved his Islam to them.
The Promised Messiahas had even gone to Delhi for this very purpose with his companions in October 1891. Despite all the arrangements at the Jami‘ Masjid of Delhi and an attendance of 5,000 people, Maulvi Nazeer Husain, to save face, declined to discuss the life and death of Jesusas and returned to the takfir of the Promised Messiahas.
The Promised Messiah’sbook, Asmani Faisalah (The Heavenly Decree)was read out in the first Jalsa by Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karim Sialkotira in front of 75 fortunate members who were part of this first historic Jalsa.
The book began with the verse, “Allah will not grant the disbelievers a way to prevail against the believers”(Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.142) so as to state that the support and succour of Allah would determine which of the two parties was worthy of being called “the believers”. After mentioning the details of the debate with Maulvi Nazeer Husain, the Promised Messiahas presented four ways, as described by the Holy Quran, by which the chosen ones of God could be identified and distinguished from the rest of mankind:
• The chosen ones of God receive many glad tidings from Him regarding themselves and their friends
• Secrets of the future are often revealed to them which relate to the decrees of Heaven concerning important events and persons of this world
• Their prayers are largely accepted
• The secrets and meaning of the Holy Word are opened to them in abundance
The Promised Messiahas invited his opponentsto test the acceptance of prayers. He suggested the setting up of a body which should publicly invite the most physically ill (from any faith) to send in their names and full particulars, and then the parties, after dividing the afflicted people by casting lots, should pray for the betterment of their batch. The results should then be prepared, compared and published. It appears, however, that none had the courage or conviction to accept this open challenge.
At the end of the book, the names of all 75 attendees of the Jalsa were published. The Promised Messiahas alsopublished an announcement informing members of his Jamaat about the decision of an annual gathering, which would take place on 27, 28 and 29 December at Qadian every year. The Promised Messiahas, speaking on the purpose of this gathering, wrote:
“All sincere souls who have entered the fold of this humble one should know that the purpose of pledging allegiance is to dampen the worldly ardour, so that the heart is engulfed in the love of the Bountiful God and of the Holy Prophetsa, and to develop such a state of detachment that the Final Journey does not seem an unwelcome prospect. But in order to achieve this, it is necessary to stay in my company and to spend a portion of one’s life in this cause, so that – if God Almighty so wills – through witnessing some definite signs, weakness, infirmity and tardiness may be overcome and perfect faith may be born, resulting in fervour and passionate ardour. One should always strive to achieve this goal and pray that God may grant this opportunity. Until this happens, it is essential to meet me now and then.
“Bai‘at is devoid of all blessings and is a mere formality if one does not care to meet me. Since – due to physical inability, lack of resources, and long distances – it is not possible for everyone to stay in my company or to visit me a few times every year, and most hearts are not yet endowed with such ardent desire that they should bear the greatest troubles and hardships for the meeting, it seems appropriate, therefore, that three days of every year should be fixed for a gathering in which all my devoted followers should – God willing – be present, with the condition of health, time and absence of strong impediments.
“So, in my opinion, these dates should be from 27 to 29 December. Hence, from this day, 30 December 1891, if we live to see 27 December, all our friends should, to the best of their ability, come and listen to divine words and join us in supplication for the sake of Allah.” (The Heavenly Decree, pp. 73-74)
“This gathering will be devoted to the exposition of such truths and spiritual insight as are necessary for the promotion of faith and certainty and spiritual understanding, and there will be special prayers and attention for the participants. And to the best of our ability, we shall endeavour to supplicate at the threshold of the Most Merciful that He may draw them towards Him, may accept them and may bring about a pious change in them.
“An additional benefit of these gatherings will be that each year, new entrants to the Jamaat shall, by being present on the fixed dates, get to know their brethren who had joined earlier. And these meetings will lead to progressive strengthening of the bond of mutual love and affection. Prayers for absolution will be offered for brothers who will have passed away in the interim, and supplications shall be made at the threshold of the Glorious God that He may unite all these brothers in spirit and banish all estrangement, dryness and differences from amongst them.”(The Heavenly Decree, p. 74)
The Promised Messiahas also published an announcement before the second Jalsa Salana of 1892 on 7 December 1892. Among the purposes detailed of this fatheringwere spiritual and moral progress and acquaintance with their spiritual family. An additional purpose of this Jalsa Salana was described as “to put forward sound policies for the religious benefit of Europe and America.”(Majmu‘a-e-Ishtiharat, 7 December 1902, Vol. 1, pp. 340-342)
On the second day of the convention, on 28 December 1892, a consultation meeting was held for this purpose, and it was decided that an English magazine should be distributed – free of charge – in Europe and America.
It was the fruit of this consultation that Anjuman Isha‘at-e-Islam (a body for the propagation of Islam) was set up under which the publication of the famous magazine, The Review of Religions was initiated by the Promised Messiahas in 1902, which played a pivotal role in the propagation of Islam to the West.
The Ahmadiyya UK Mission and its first Jalsa Salana
It is important to note that the Promised Messiah’sas message had reached Europe and America as early as 1885 when he claimed to be the reformer of the age, and many connections and links were formed. A direct correspondence also took place with the native British people. Among them, some accepted and joined the Ahmadiyya Movement and others of intriguing nature came to Qadian to enquire about his claims. Hence it would not be incorrect to say that the Promised Messiahas was, in a manner of speaking, the first missionary to the Europeans and Americans before the departure of any Ahmadi missionary to those lands.
Hazrat Chaudhry Fateh Muhammad Sayalra was the first missionary sent to the UK in 1913. The years after saw the influx of missionaries to the London mission. This mission – in the heart of the colonial empire – also served as a training ground for missionaries. It was the practice of missionaries to spend some time in the UK before heading to the country of their assignment. Thus, the UK mission was blessed with the company of many prominent companions of the Promised Messiahas and more importantly, with the visits of Khulafa-e-Ahmadiyyat until the migration of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh in 1984 and the eventual permanent residence of Khilafat.
The first Jalsa Salana United Kingdom took place for two days on 29 and 30 August 1964. There is, however, mention of an annual Jamaat conference of the United Kingdom in October 1949 where members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community attended from around the UK. In it, the then imam of the Fazl Mosque, London, Mushtaq Ahmad Bajwa Sahib, also invited missionaries serving in many European countries to attend.
During this conference, a congratulatory message from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat UK was sent to their Khalifa in Rabwah on the establishment of the markaz in the newly formed Pakistan and on the laying of the foundation stone of the Mubarak Mosque, Rabwah. Plans for the propagation of Islam in the West and a guideline for the spiritual and educational advancement of new converts were on the agenda during the conference.
While this conference was an historic event in the history of Ahmadiyyat in the UK, it is not certain whether this conference could be considered the first Jalsa Salana UK since it was merely reported as a conference in Al Fazl (Al Fazl, 1 November 1949). Also it is not reported to have been annually held thereafter. However, the Jalsa Salana of 29 and 30 August 1964 is reported in Al Fazl as the first Jalsa Salana of the United Kingdom. (Al Fazl, 26 September 1964)
The 1964 Jalsa was participated by Ahmadis around the UK and many British guests attended the final session of the Jalsa. The London Jamaat embraced the responsibility of providing accommodation and food to the guests and provided their homes for this cause.
Background and proceedings of the first Jalsa Salana UK
The two-day proceedings of the first Jalsa Salana UK began on 29 August 1964 in the vicinity of the Fazl Mosque, London. The former imam of the Fazl Mosque, London, Bashir Ahmad Rafiq Sahib wrote about the first Jalsa Salana, 1964:
“In April 1964, I was appointed Imam of the Fazl Mosque in London. Shortly after assuming charge, I felt that for the education and training of the Jamaat in England it was essential to hold annual conventions (Jalsas) so that at least once a year, all Ahmadis in England and some from the continent could get together. I called a meeting of the executive committee to chalk out a programme for the holding of the first annual Jalsa.
“In those days, we had acute financial problems. In any case, holding an annual convention was no simple task. With trust in God and in consultation with certain friends, it was decided that a beginning should be made in that very year. A committee was formed for this purpose. The dates fixed for the annual convention were announced through The Muslim Herald and the Akhbar-e-Ahmadiyya. The European Missions were also advised of the dates. It was decided to hold the Convention on 29 and 30 August 1964. This was the first historic convention of the British jamaats.
“Accommodation for members who were to visit London for the convention proved to be a complicated problem. A committee was formed and through Friday Sermons and Akhbar-e-Ahmadiyya, members of the London Jamaat were repeatedly invited to spare some space in their houses for the guests.
“At that time, the British Jamaat mostly consisted of young men. There were very few members who had their families with them. The young men mostly lived in one or two room bachelor lodgings. However, with His mercy and grace, members of the London Jamaat, displaying the spirit of selflessness and sacrifice, accommodated visitors in their houses. Mostly they set apart their sitting rooms to lodge the guests. His mercy and grace solved that problem in this manner. Members from Scotland, Bristol, Gillingham, Manchester, Oxford, Preston, Bradford and Birmingham came to participate in the Annual Convention.
“All meals were served in the mosque premises. The house at 63 Melrose Road then served as the mission house. In its basement, there was a spacious kitchen in which all the meals were cooked. The team responsible for cooking remained in the basement both day and night. They served the two meals to all the guests. Tea was served round the clock. Arrangements were also made to serve special meals to those on a diet. May Allah abundantly reward all those who helped.
“In 1964, Hazrat Chaudhry Zafrulla Khanra was a Judge at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. When I invited him to participate in the convention, he accepted my invitation with pleasure […]
“Two or three weeks before the arrival of the guests, on a regular basis, members of the London Jamaat performed waqar-e-amal (dignity of labour). They thoroughly cleaned the mosque and the surrounding compound. They also cut the grass and attended to the garden. Some non-Muslims had been specially invited to the Convention. We also knocked at the doors of all our neighbours and invited them to the Convention. Many did participate and joined us at our meals.” (Taken from the personal memoirs of the late Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq Sahib)
Speaking on how the first Jalsa Salana in the UK was promoted, Bashir Ahmad Rafiq Sahib said in an interview:
“In the 1960s, I was the deputy imam here and I had a personal relationship with Hazrat Mian Bashir Ahmad Sahibra, who was the younger brother of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra. He wrote to me and said that the jamaat was scattered in Britain and there was no way of communicating with them, so [I should] try to bring out a small leaflet every month, giving the names of the jamaat so that everybody knew what was going on. So I started Akhbar-e-Ahmadiyya, which was published every month and through Akhbar-e-Ahmadiyya and The Muslim Herald, we informed Ahmadis in the UK and in Europe that Jalsa was going to be held, and also the local press gave us publicity. The Wandsworth Borough News published a report of the Jalsa, and they also published the announcement of the Jalsa Salana, but as mentioned, in those days, we did not have the resources to reach every newspaper.” (Unpublished interview, 2016, taken from Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq Sahib’s archive)
The Wandsworth Borough News reported on Friday, 4 September 1964:
“The first annual gatherings of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was held on Saturday and Sunday at the London Mosque, Melrose-road, Wandsworth. More than 400 members of the community participated. The conference was opened by Mr. B. A. Rafiq, the Imam of the Mosque, and Prof. Abdussalaam, F.R.S., of the Imperial College of Science, presided. The speakers were Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, and the Imam.
“Special arrangements were made for the Muslim ladies, in a separate marquee near the main meeting place.”
A report on the proceedings of the first Jalsa Salana UK was published later in Al Fazl on 26 September 1964. The Muslim Herald also published a report in its September issue of 1964 titled, “The First Annual Gathering” – this report is given below:
“The First Annual Gathering
“The first Annual Gathering of the Ahmadis residing in the United Kingdom was organized at the London Mosque on Saturday, the 29th August 1964. In order to participate in this get-together members from Bradford, Birmingham, Bristol, Gillingham, Hayes, Southall, Oxford, Manchester, Preston, Glasgow and other centres came early in the day. Elaborate arrangements had been made beforehand in the Mosque premises for this purpose. Accommodation was provided for those who had come from other counties. The London Ahmadis generously offered free accommodation to their guests. The Mission also arranged for their food and tea.
“The program commenced with the recitation of the Holy Quran by Mr Masud Ahmad and the singing of religious songs by some vocally gifted individuals. Mahmood ul Hasan, Member of the Board of Revenue, East Pakistan, who is on a private visit to this country, took the chair for the morning session.
“In the opening speech the Imam Mr B.A. Rafiq, drew the attention of the audience to the vision of the Promised Messiah that he was delivering a speech in London and after it he had caught some white partridges. He pointed out that a part of the vision had already come true as in and around London, his missionaries gave a number of talks on Islam each year. The Imam emphasized that the time had come when the second part of the dream was to be fulfilled. He expected that English people would join the fold of Islam as the white partridges according to the interpretation of the vision, referred to the English.
“The Imam laid stress on the importance of the sacrifice of time and money in order to carry on the work of the spreading of Islam in this country with more vigor. He said that it is the keynote of any success that is to be achieved since without a concerted effort one cannot push the work of the Tableegh ahead. Mr A. R. Chowdry then read the various messages, which had been received, from our Missions in Africa, America, Europe and the Far East. Besides these a message from the Wakeel-ul- Tabshir, Rabwah, Pakistan, was also received and read. These messages congratulated the Imam on holding the first Annual Gathering in London and drew the attention of the Jamaat here to the importance of the task that lay ahead.
“Mr Naseer Ahmad Khan, (Lecturer, T.I. College, Rabwah), read his paper on the various aspects of the Khilafat and its important role in Ahmadiyyat.
“Next, the Chairman, Mr Mahmood ul Hasan spoke on the importance of the spiritual uplift and the moral discipline. In his speech he emphasized that according to the Holy Quran one of the main objects of the advent of the Promised Messiah was the spiritual uplift (i.e. Tajziyah-e-Nafs) of the humanity especially of the Muslims and Ahmadis. Tajziyah-e-Nafs is a spiritual exercise, which requires constant personal guidance from a spiritual leader. The leader exercises on the character of those who seek his companionship and contact a sublime influence analogous to the effect of a magnet on a piece of steel.
“Besides being attracted to it the piece of steel itself becomes magnetized as long as it is under the influence of the principal source of power. If the piece of steel goes beyond the magnetic field, it ceases to exercise magnetic properties; but if it remains in contact with a primary source of magnetism for a sufficiently long time it acquires magnetic properties permanently. So it is that the companionship of spiritually elevated personages has the effect of purifying the spirit of followers. Quoting Maulana Roomi, he said that the point has been aptly described in his famous mathnavi in the following verse:
“‘The spiritual benefit, which a person can derive by constant personal contact with a saintly person, is much greater than what one can acquire through a hundred years spent in formal prayers.’
“The speaker also emphasized the point that like all other exercises spiritual exercises required constant application of physical, intellectual, and moral forces. These faculties are much sharper during youth and decline, as we grow old, become feeble or next to nothing at the stage of seventy. It was an erroneous idea for young men to think that one could put off devotion to spiritual exercises to the later stage of one’s life. The most suitable age for the acquisition of moral and spiritual values was the period of youth.
“After the lunch and mid-day prayers, the second session commenced with Professor A. Salaam in the Chair. Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, (Judge at the International Court of Justice, Hague), gave a speech in which he emphasized the importance of setting up a personal example and model of all that we claimed and said. Addressing the Ahmadis gathered on the occasion Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan suggested,
“‘If we proudly claim to be morally, spiritually and culturally superior to all mankind then it becomes our great responsibility that our own actions should reflect the teachings of which we are the privileged inheritors.’
“Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan continuing his speech drew the attention of the members of the Community by saying that they were fortunate that they had come and settled in a country whose religion and culture was different to their own. It happily provided them with a great opportunity to show by their example that their culture and their beliefs and consequently their faith was in every respect superior to any other culture or faith. No other Tabligh could be more effective than their own example and actions.
“‘For this’ he said,
“‘One should not fear that the Community is in a minority. Every prophet who revolutionizes the entire nation does so single-handed at first. He brings a doctrine quite contrary to the one followed by all the others. Through his own model and example, he brings a complete transformation in the land where he sows the seeds of his faith. So, work hard on this side in order to get the pleasure of God. Be fair in your dealings, as God loves those who are fair to all. And above all set up an example so that all the people might walk in your way.’
“On the second day, the program commenced under the chair of Mr A.A. Dean. Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan again addressed a large crowd of about four hundred people both the English and Pakistanis. The subject of his address was the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of God be upon him).”
This Jalsa saw grand new heights and became an international Jalsa with the arrival of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh.Ever since the beginning, Jalsa Salana UK has been a means of spiritual and moral advancement of Ahmadi Muslims and additionally a means of propagating the true message of Islam to the British public. The growth of these Jalsas has been remarkable under the guidance and leadership of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya.
With Jalsa Salana UK 2021 around the corner, let us pray that the following blessed words of the Promised Messiahas are fulfilled in our favour. The Promised Messiahas, praying for the attendees of Jalsa, wrote:
“I conclude with the prayer that for everyone who travels for [attending] this Jalsa that is for the sake of Allah: May Allah, the Exalted, be with them, reward them in abundant measure, have mercy on them, ease up for them their circumstances of hardship and anxiety and eliminate their anguish and grief. May He grant them freedom from every single hardship and lay open for them the ways of [achieving] their cherished goals, and raise them up, on the Day of Judgment, among those of His servants who are the recipients of His blessings and mercy. May He be their Guardian in their absence until after their journey comes to an end.
“O Allah! O Sublime One and Bestower of bounties, the Ever Merciful and the One Who resolves all problems, do grant all these prayers, and grant us victory over our opponents with scintillating signs because You alone have all the prowess and power. Amin! Amin!!” (Majmu‘a-e-Ishtiharat, 7 December 1892, Vol. 1, p. 342)