The 46th annual convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, UK took place between 7-9 of September, 2012. It happens every summer. Every year, for three days around 30,000 delegates converge in a large Hampshire farm, called Hadeeqat-ul-Mahdi. These delegates comprised of more than 80 nationalities this year, but the largest contingent to this Jalsa comes from Pakistan. Majority of British Ahmadis are also of Pakistani origin most of whom have immigrated not for economic reasons, but to escape persecution in Pakistan.
This year's Jalsa Salana went as planned. There were speeches from scholars, messages from the PM and the leader of the opposition, a couple of MPs also addressed the gathering. But people come to the Jalsa to listen to something much more important than any of these speakers. They make the journey to be in the presence of their spiritual guide, the Khalifatul Masih V, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. When he arrives at the main Marquee the whole place erupts for a few minutes in slogans from his devoted followers. When he takes his seat, the whole crowd falls silent, eagerly waiting for him to speak. Their attention never wanes, their sights fixed at the stage in devotion and respect. 'They love their Khalifa' is an observation often heard by external visitors to the Jalsa.
This year saw another expression of this love. Every time the Khalifatul Masih started to speak, #JalsaUK started to trend on Twitter in Pakistan. For the first two days, it trended for a few hours. Also followed by Germany and Canada. On the third day, #JalsaUK was trending in Pakistan for the whole afternoon. And it stayed at number 2 spot for almost the whole evening. Scrolling through the messages you could read the desperate longing in the messages. A longing to be at the Jalsa Salana; a sense of loss and helplessness. Something that Pakistani Ahmadis have felt constantly after the promulgation of draconian Ordinance XX in 1984 by General Zia, which forced the Khalifatul Masih IV to leave the country. In 1983, close to 250,000 had attended the Jalsa Salana at Rabwah. No Jalsa Salana has been held there since then. It has been banned under the law in addition to many other basic human rights for Ahmadis.
The generation of Ahmadis tweeting their messages at this Jalsa has not seen a Jalsa Salana. They have only heard of its stories through their parents and elders. When they see their Khalifa meeting their fellow Ahmadis in Africa, North America and Europe in their annual conventions, the feeling of being persecuted multiplies manifolds.
|#JalsaUK trending at #7 in Pakistan, 9-Sep-2012. It went upto #2 spot later.
This twitter trend which was seen on Jalsa days was just another sign of how deeply Ahmadis of Pakistan are attached to the institution of Khilafat. Ahmadis do not partake in street protests or violence and effigy burning to vent their frustrations. But #JalsaUK was perhaps also a protest of sorts. A protest to remind the 2 million twitter users of Pakistan that a UK based event of little public interest should not be trending in their country. It should have been #JalsaRabwah, where people from all over the world flocked before 1984. Trains and buses laden with the faithful arrived in Rabwah in late December to enjoy the hospitality of its residents. For them, it was a sign of hope for Pakistan which had just suffered yet another coup and its society was to change for the worst.
Banning the Jalsa in Pakistan and making the lives of Ahmadis unbearable is considered as achievement by many in Pakistan.Something that even the ex-Prime Minister celebrated this year. But when the educated, social media savy Pakistanis saw #JalsaUK trend in Pakistan, they did not even bother to take any notice or find its cause. Could it be that one Rao Abdul Ghaffar, an Ahmadi teacher was killed in Karachi, or another Ahmadi gravely wounded in Sindh? Or was it the defacing of many graves in Punjab during the same week? Was it because their mosques are being modified and whitewashed to make sure they do not look like mosques anymore?
When it comes to individual events of brutality and persecution like above, some individual liberals will raise their voice and condemn it. But when it comes to a collective expression of feelings like this, all these liberals kept silent. A couple of them when goaded by Ahmadis on twitter were callous enough to respond negatively. Callousness and lack of respect could explain such behaviour, but more importantly its a lesson for young Ahmadis in Pakistan. No one in Pakistan wants to know how it actually feels to be an Ahmadi in such a country. A country ravaged by religious bigotry, brought to its knees by the same people who persecute Ahmadis, but still a country which fails to feel your pain.
And unless they feel your pain, they will not undo the injustice that has been done to you.