Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 28: Beginnings of the
Annual Conventions (Jalsa) UK
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 program 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 the 29th and 30th 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 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, Hadhrat Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan 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. Some Tableegh publications prepared for this purpose were presented to them. The report of the Annual Convention that was published in the September 1964 issue of the ‘Muslim Herald’ appears below:
“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. Sh: 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 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 Room, 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 tableigh could be more effective than their own example and actions.
“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).