Bitter Winter attended the 2023 National Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at and the inauguration of a landmark new building at the Baitul Futuh mosque in London.
by Marco Respinti
On March 4, 2023, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (AMJ) (“jama’at” meaning “community”) celebrated an important moment, not only for its community living in the UK, but for the whole international jama’at of this spiritual tradition. A new complex was inaugurated at the Baitul Futuh (“House of Victories”) Mosque in Morden, a district and town in Merton, the southern borough of London, England, the UK, by the leader of the Ahmadis, His Holiness Sahibzada Mirza Ahmad Masroor Sahib, the 5th Caliph. On that solemn occasion, he planted a tree and unveiled the inauguration plaque.
The new five-floor building hosts the administration offices, two large multipurpose halls, and guest rooms for the community. It was rebuilt, after a fire destroyed about half of it on September 26, 2015 (fortunately without casualties), into a beautiful edifice, interpreting Islamic style with a modern minimalistic Western approach and combining beauty with functionality. The effort costed 1.20 million pounds, all collected from the free and private donations of believers.
The 2.1-hectares of Baitul Futuh (which in itself was untouched by the 2015 fire) is home to one of the largest (if not the largest) mosques in Western Europe, and can host around 10,000 worshippers, serving as a spiritual center for the community. It is in fact in the UK that today the 5th Ahmadi Caliph lives. He is sometimes referred to as “huzoor,” a title in the Urdu language originally derived from an Arabic word which may be translated as “Eminence” or “Excellence;” normally applied to saints, it equals the “His Holiness” title most frequently used by Ahmadis.
After having suffered imprisonment in 1999, Masroor was compelled to flee into exile when he was elected as the new Caliph in 2003, due to the state persecution of Ahmadis that Pakistan wages on since the first half of the 1980s. He now resides in the Islamabad compound of the village of Tilford, in Surrey County, England, where the AMJ’s international headquarters and the Mubarak (“Blessed”) Mosque are located. He often guides the community prayer at London Baitul Futuh.
In Baitul Futuh, other important community events of international resonance take place, notably the National Peace Symposium that annually awards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace. Launched in 2009 to recognize an individual’s or an organization’s contribution to world peace, it has been delivered to those so honored by the Caliph since 2010, and includes an award of 10,000 pounds.
On March 4, the inauguration of the new building at Baitul Futuh coincided with the 2023 National Peace Symposium, whose theme was “Foundations for True Peace.” Two persons were awarded the Prize. The 2019 Prize (at the time canceled due to the COVID-19 restrictions) went to Swiss humanitarian and charity worker Barbara Hofmann, founder and CEO of the non-profit organization Association en faveur de l’Enfance Mozambicaine-The Association for the Children of Mozambique based in Beira, Mozambique. The 2023 Prize was given to Japanese mathematician and former mayor of Hiroshima, Akiba Tadatoshi, well-known for his position and activities in favor of peace and against nuclear weapons.
After the recitation of the Surah al-A’raf, verses 56-59 from the Holy Quran, followed by its English translation, several authorities took the floor in front of hundreds of people from dozens of countries and different religious affiliations. Then, Fareed Ahmad Sahib, the National Secretary for External Affairs of the UK AMJ, read a message from the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Introduced by Rafiq Hayat, UK AMJ Amir (the Arabic word for “emir,” used by AMJ to mean National President), Sir Ed Davey MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paul Scully MP, Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy, and Fleur Anderson MP, the Shadow Paymaster General, saluted the attendees. And after Hoffman and Akiba had offered their acceptance speeches, His Holiness the 5th Caliph gave the keynote address, a vibrant speech of particular intensity and value for all those who appreciate and defend freedom of religion, belief, and creed (FoRB), which intrinsically leads to a deep appreciation of universal peace.
Two were the Caliph’s main focuses. First, he denounced the war of aggression that Russia is waging against Ukraine. We should all work for peace, he said, while allowing defensive warfare only under extreme circumstances, as Islam teaches, particularly where there is a concerted effort to destroy religious freedom or religion itself. “When two nations are at war, third parties should seek to reconcile them and draw them to a peaceful settlement. If the aggressor continues to wage war, it is up to other nations to join forces and use proportionate and legitimate force to stop the oppressor.”
However, he added that, “once their cruelties cease, unjust retribution or revenge must not be exacted.” In fact, as the Quran ch. 5, v. 9 teaches, he explained, none should let “the enmity of any nation or party” prevent oneself “from upholding the true standards of justice and equity. Accordingly, punitive sanctions or other unjust measures that prevent a nation from moving forward post-war and limit its freedom and prosperity should be avoided at all costs.” There is no excuse for the aggressive policy of the Russian government, the Caliph implied, but we should never confuse a country’s government with its people, particularly when hostilities are over and all should work for reconciliation and reconstruction.
Secondly, the world leader of the Ahmadis said that, as a Muslim prays five times a day, “in each prayer, it is incumbent upon all to recite the first chapter of the Holy Quran. It is second verse, Allah the Almighty proclaims that He is the Lord of All the worlds and of all peoples. He is not just the provider and sustainer of Muslims, but he provides for and sustains Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and, indeed, people of all religions and beliefs. He grants them life and fulfils their basic needs through His grace and compassion.”
This comes of course from a Muslim perspective, and words and concepts used here belong to the Islamic tradition, but the importance of the Caliph’s thought goes beyond confessional barriers to deliver a universal message. “From the very start of the Holy Quran,” His Holiness continued, “Muslims are taught that the fundamental pillar of Islamic teaching is that a sincere Muslim must never harm the people of other faiths or religions, harbor any form of hatred, or speak ill of them in any way, as we are all the creation of God Almighty. Indeed, it is our conviction and teaching that Allah the Almighty fulfills the needs of those who do not appreciate His grace and reject His very existence. Not only does He provide for them, but he also grants them the fruits of their labour. This is the concept of the all-merciful God in whom we believe. Surely, those who have faith in such a gracious God can never seek to undermine the peace and well-being of others. Thus, it is purely to attain the nearness and love of such a benevolent and loving God that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community strives to foster peace and harmony around the world.”
He then added that, while violence can come, and actually comes, from all religious groups, “any Muslims or so-called Islamic groups who inflict cruelties or conduct barbaric acts violate their religious teachings and are fully culpable to be condemned in the strongest terms.”
The preciousness and universality of this message is not to be confused with an easy-going relativist approach or a superficial interreligious dialogue that ends up disappointing all sides. Rather, it is a strong appeal to all persons of whatever faith from a religious leader, deeply rooted in his specific faith, which cannot go unnoticed by both believers and those who cherish FoRB, be they religious or non-religious.
Note: The author of this article wishes to thank Mr. Bilal Husein, of the AMJ in the UK, and Imam Ataul Wasiq Tariq, of the AMJ in Italy, for their help about details of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at’s culture and theology.