Just a day before the U.S. launched airstrikes against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community concluded their annual three-day retreat (East Coast Ijtema) at the Baitur Rahman mosque, their National Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. The event which took place from September 19 to 21 was attended by one thousand women and girls from all over the east coast. The attendees came from as far north as Syracuse, New York and as far south as Orlando, Florida.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization which believes that the long-awaited messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India. Ahmad laid the foundation of the community in 1889 with only forty followers. In a span of 125 years the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been established in more than 200 countries with adherents exceeding tens of millions globally. It is also the only worldwide Muslim organization which has had an established caliphate for the last century. With the current crisis in Iraq and Syria and the claim of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the self proclaimed caliph of the ISIS, it is befitting that the theme of this year’s event was titled, “Meeting the Messiah”. The program focused on the life of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his caliphs.
Saima Ahmad traveled to Silver Spring from her hometown of Suwanee, Georgia accompanied by her ten year old daughter. She was part of a 22-member delegation of women and girls who are members of the Georgia chapter of the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It was Ahmad’s first time attending the retreat and made the ten-hour journey for her daughter’s sake.
“I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce it to my daughter so that in the coming years she would be encouraged to attend and see for herself what it is all about. That was a big motivation for taking this step. With things going on with ISIS and everything in the world and people are talking about caliphate and saying, ‘this is the representation of Islam’ and looking at what we are doing over here, there is a big contrast. So it reinforces my idea about what the true caliphate is about,” Ahmad remarked.
Marriam Azam traveled from Cary, North Carolina with her four daughters ranging in ages from 6 to 22 years. Azam is a regular at these annual retreats though she was unable to attend last year’s event. Speaking about the benefits of the retreat she said:
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere of collaboration and learning and kindness- everyone is trying to help each other. The girls are experiencing a lot seeing their peers with them standing up and reciting from parts of the Holy Qur’an that they had memorized.”
There were separate parallel sessions scheduled for girls between the ages of 7 to 14. The girls participated in Qur’an recitation and poster competitions. More than 150 girls participated in the poster competition. The participants were grouped in teams of the chapters they belonged to.
“The poster competition will teach the girls how to work in teams,” Azam said.
The entire weekend retreat was planned, organized, and run by volunteers from the various chapters of the auxiliary. Eamon Chaudhry of Hartford, Connecticut was the coordinator for the volunteers. Her job was to make sure that the workers knew what to do and where to go.
“We basically have four different departments that I was in charge of- security, discipline, cleaning, and food service,” Chaudhry explained. “We try to divide up all the chapters so each of them has something to do everyday. Those who live nearby are assigned duties on Friday and Sunday,” said Chaudhry.
Members who were traveling from New York area had chartered a bus. Khoshnoor Paracha was one of those who came on the bus.
“Traveling on the bus with the other members was an interesting experience. It was a spiritual journey that we all made together. Being able to be a part of such a unique and unifying program is a priceless blessing,” Paracha remarked.
The caliphate declared by the extremist group ISIS does not represent true Islam. No doubt many Muslim religious leaders have openly condemned their actions and atrocities. A caliph is appointed by God. He is a man of God and treads on the path laid out by Him. The national president of the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Saliha Malik, in her concluding remarks explained to the members the meaning of true caliphate and what obedience to the caliph means.
“Obedience is nothing more than complete utter love. It’s just love. When somebody is deeply in love with somebody they give up anything the person wants. They change their clothes and sleep patterns. You change everything about you when you are deeply, deeply in love. That’s obedience. You can see the deep profound love for the caliph among the Ahmadi Muslims,” Malik said.
There was plenty of spiritual as well earthly food at the retreat. All those who came not only experienced a close connection with God but also a strong sense of sisterhood. Marriam Azam felt a spiritual rejuvenation by being able to participate in congregational prayers.
“I got to meet my friends whom I haven’t seen for a long time. We were able to participate in the congregational Prayer including the early morning and the late night Prayer (Tahajjud). It’s just wonderful that everyone could leave what they were doing and give time to gather with the members of the community to strengthen their faith and join in Prayers.”