by Mehpara Khan, New Zealand
The first UK Jalsa I remember involves sleeping bags, deep fried food and staying up all night.
I was probably only 10 or 11 years old at the time and it was freezing cold in the middle of a New Zealand winter. My sisters and I pulled out the sleeping bags, duvets and heaters and decided to spend the next three nights camping out in the living room. We were plonked in front of the only TV in the house connected up to a ginormous satellite dish that looked like it came from a bad sci fi movie. Mum fried up those delicious batter-covered potatoes we call Pakoras and we pulled out our stash of chocolate and chips and that was us set for Jalsa.
Living 12 hours ahead of the United Kingdom means our experience of Jalsa plays out in the dark. Every year Ahmadies in New Zealand fight off sleep to ensure we are up in the small hours of the morning taking in as much of the experience as we can. You may think we’re crazy for doing it and could just as easily watch the day-time repeats, but it’s not the same and you lose that feeling of community.
In New Zealand there is always a sense of isolation from the rest of the world, but as an Ahmadi you feel it most when Jalsa is on. Our New Zealand Jamaat is somewhere just above the 400 mark (not thousand – just 400). So when this time of year rolls around it comes with a sense of joy at seeing the amazing community flourish and pain to be so far away from my sisters and my Imam.
When the new millennium kicked in our New Zealand Jamaat bought a centre, where we are now in the process of building a mosque. Ahmadi families gather together to watch the Jalsa with a cup of tea, blankets and sweet and savoury treats. We create our own sense of community. It’s not as fun as the slumber parties in the lounge from my childhood, but it is easier staying awake when you have people around you, especially when it comes to the third day (or night rather) and the Bai’at.
I love the Bai’at. It’s my favourite part of Jalsa because to me it signifies the real blessings of our Jamaat. It shows the world that no matter who tries to bring us down we will only increase in number. So when it’s 1am on a Monday morning and you’re sitting in literally the corner of the world with your Ahmadi sisters watching this devotion to religion – things get emotional.
I’m not sure if it’s caused by the sentiment of the actual Bai’at and, as you repeat the words, you remember what you’ve promised to work towards in your life, or if it’s that by this point we’ve been up two nights in a row and it’s starting to get to us. All I know is that the emotion and the feeling that is created during the Bai’at, and actually throughout the whole Jalsa, is truly incomparable. This emotion stretches beyond oceans, beyond the 18,000 kilometres from London to Auckland, beyond any distance a man can place between an Ahmadi and her Imam – because it’s not just a feeling, it’s a true sense of community that the Jalsa creates. You are part of a greater whole and you belong.
This year I note the Bai’at will be at 1am on Monday morning New Zealand time with Hazoor’s closing address at 4am. Luckily I have leave off work, but there are those who will be heading to school, uni and work with only a few hours of sleep. Spare them a thought in your prayers and send a special one up for any other 10 year old girl around the world in her sleeping bag camped out for Jalsa Salana UK 2013.