Jalsa: A gathering of peace, 33 years and counting
From December 21 to 23, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA—the nation’s oldest Muslim organization—will hold its 33rd annual West Coast USA Jalsa Salana (or “annual convention”) in Chino.
The Jalsa—as the term has grown familiar to so many over the decades—draws men and women, young and old, from across the western United States each year for a weekend of inter-religious harmony and spiritual self-reflection.
The West Coast USA Jalsa is one of many Jalsas held all over the world by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community—a tradition that dates back to 1891 when the first Jalsa was held in a tiny village of Qadian, India, from where the Community was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (whom Ahmadi Muslims consider the promised messiah and reformer).
That first Jalsa had only 75 attendees; now there are more than 75 Jalsas that draw hundreds of thousands of Ahmadi Muslims from all over the world throughout the year. In the United Kingdom, the largest Jalsa internationally attracts more than 40,000 people annually.
In the United States, the national Jalsa attracts more than 9,000 annually. And here in Southern California, the West Coast Jalsa, held since 1982, draws 3,000 annually.
For many within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Jalsa is an opportunity to bring their families together annually in a spiritual retreat—to renew familial and faith-based ties, strive for greater spiritual acuity and personal growth and make renewed commitments to serve the needy and underserved in their local communities.
The community’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, stressed how the Jalsa should not be treated in the same league as other ordinary human assemblies but as a divine opportunity for Muslims to seek religious benefits and pursue blessed objectives.
Among the many unique facets of the Jalsa event is a strong emphasis on inter-faith communion and dialogue. The Jalsa includes a special guest session focused on timely and weighty subjects affecting all of humanity—from combatting extremism to helping the vulnerable and oppressed.
This year’s theme—“Justice: The Foundation for Lasting Peace”—draws representatives from many faith traditions to highlight the relevant examples of the great prophets and saints in history.
In addition to uniting the inter-faith community, the Jalsa attracts public officials from varying political backgrounds and arenas, including members of Congress, state, county and city officials, members of law enforcement and members of the diplomatic and NGO communities.
For example, the West Coast USA Jalsa in 2015 came at the heels of the tragic mass shooting in San Bernardino, and first responders from law enforcement and fire, standing alongside fellow first responders from the faith-based community, joined hands to focus on ways to heel and unite San Bernardino County (and indeed all of America) to combat extremism, hate and division. It was an extraordinarily powerful moment in Jalsa history, especially since the event was held at San Bernardino County’s largest mosque, Baitul Hameed, in Chino.
The Jalsa also affords Muslims an opportunity to educate their fellow neighbors about true Islamic teachings and practices. Since 2015, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has launched its signature grassroots campaign—True Islam—which seeks to unite all American Muslims around a common set of values that are based on the Quran and example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).
To date, the campaign has garnered over 20,000 public endorsements from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, including numerous faith leaders and public officials. Many guests of the Jalsa leave with a more accurate and clearer picture of Islam as explained by Muslim imams and scholars.
Finally, the Jalsa features the guidance of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s current global leader, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth successor to the Community’s founder and the world’s most prominent Muslim caliph.
His Holiness, who resides in the United Kingdom, leads a community of tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslim worldwide, and his directives aim at fostering at fostering absolute justice, human welfare, and social harmony.
His various sermons and public addresses provide a spiritual balm to a world mired in wars, nuclear armament, famine and environmental destruction.
At a time of increasing political and religious tension in America, the Jalsa provides a bridge between people of different faiths or no faith at all.
By facilitating robust and meaningful conversations each year during the holiday season, the West Coast USA Jalsa, in particular, unites individuals from a diverse range of religious, ethnic and political backgrounds across Southern California for a singular purpose: to let the forces of love overwhelm the forces of hate.
(Amjad Mahmood Khan, a lawyer and law professor, is national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @amjadmkhanesq. For more information about the West Coast USA Jalsa and to register, go to convention.ahmadiyya.us or on Twitter @wcjsusa, or call (909)?627-2252).