Jalsa Salana

Jalsa Salana U.S.A. National Islamic Convention: promoting spirituality and peace

News reports of multiple tragic incidents of violence and terrorism in Germany, France, Belgium, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and America have been deeply moving for us all. Sadly we witness fanatics who do not value their own life let alone the life of those they chose to “hate.” Tolerance and mutual understanding are on the decline. Instead, cruelty, malice, and hatred are on the rise creating division. And if we allow divisions to thrive in our society in the aftermath of actions of extremists, we may succumb to a multiplier effect on radicalization and Islamophobia.

masroorTerrorists seek to spread fear, divide people and create false appeal to the vulnerable. Sadly, the attention earned by extremists creates an impression that the hate mongering goals of the terrorists have been achieved. To minimize this effect, it is important to highlight the positive contributions of the Muslim community to counter the negative narrative. Enlightening the public about the real picture of Islam will not only fail the terrorists but also clarify misconceptions. Positive actions and stories are also essential for vulnerable Muslim youth to experience, especially in a climate that at times makes them question not only their identity but also their religion. For many parents, these challenges are best met by empowering children to experience Muslim gatherings that help them define their faith better. On July 29, one such conference took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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This convention, also known as Jalsa Salana, was attended peacefully by over 8,000 delegates including 1,500 guests and is the longest running Muslim convention in America. People of all ages were able to have a first-hand exposure to the views from various prominent civic, political and religious leaders across the country. The speeches and messages at the convention about Islam had a profound impact, especially upon Muslim youth. For those Muslim youth present, this positive environment encouraged their Muslim identity, and also allowed them to hear how their faith enables them to be positively engaged Americans.

ghulamOne such uplifting speech was by former Maryland Governor and U.S. Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. Governor O’Malley started his speech by sharing his appreciation for the True Islam Campaign sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This campaign was launched in December 2015 to educate all Americans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, on the teachings of Islam in 11 critical areas distorted by extremists. Addressing the Muslims present in the audience, Mr. O’Malley graciously stated, “The True Islam campaign is a gift. It underscores the freedom of conscience, religion, charity, kindness, and generosity to strangers. These values have been demonstrated the world over by you.” His message was met with great appeal and really helped highlight the positive contributions American Muslims are making towards ending extremism.

Further commentary came from Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who shared her thoughts and said, “We cannot counter religious extremism of some without defending the religious freedom of all.” Local officials also added to the conversation including Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse who sent a video message. He referenced the True Islam campaign and said, “I would like to applaud your community’s True Islam campaign to fight extremist ideology and protect our national security.”

Yet the highlight of the speeches came from a former U.S. Marine, Ted Hakey, Jr.
In November 2015, Ted Hakey Jr. found himself misinformed and lacking information on Muslims leading him to shoot at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s mosque in Connecticut. However, rather than continuing to be alienated from one another, the mosque leadership and congregation gave the true Islamic response of compassion and forgiveness. As a result, Ted Hakey Jr. is now a close friend of the community. Sharing his sentiments at the guest session, he aptly summarized that “Forgiveness, education, and Grace of God will overcome hatred every single time.”

These powerful speeches helped demonstrate the real face of Islam. Such gatherings should be highlighted within the media to encourage unity as well as counter the message of extremists. Education and dialogue are essential in defeating the extremist ideology as well as strengthening our youth as productive members of society. We should not allow extremists to succeed in dividing us as a nation. Rather, we should stand united to defeat them.

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