In an exclusive column, Imam and Whitehill councillor Adeel Shah has vowed to ensure Jalsa Salana runs more smoothly next year after wet weather marred this year's record event – while thanking the community for its understanding and support.

Cllr Shah's words are printed in full below:

We are nothing without each other. The spirit of working together is what really brings a community together, that brings a community to life. This is certainly what we saw over the weekend of Jalsa Salana (Annual Convention) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK where 7,000 or so volunteers gave their time and, in truth, their all to make the Jalsa Salana a success.

The Jalsa, however, was not just about the service and support of the volunteers, it was a reflection of the amazing goodwill and support from our local leaders – be that the council, police, MPs or our truly amazing neighbours who are at the very core of what Alton is all about. 

Their support and service underpins the success of the convention itself and shows in practice how communities can truly work together and help each other. It showcases to the whole world what collective action can achieve and how it can foster respect, understanding and collaboration for the sake of peace.

This heartwarming gesture of friendship was appreciated by the record 41,654 attendees this year who came to the 210-acre Oaklands Farm from 118 countries, and it was also a gesture that was appreciated by millions globally as the Jalsa was broadcast live through our Community’s global television channel, MTA International, and relayed further in 24 terrestrial broadcasts in various countries, as well as in the media coverage to over 50 million people via local, national and international media. 

It really put Alton on the map not just in terms of geography but more importantly in the open heartedness of its people.

As Ahmadi Muslims it moves us to be ever grateful to God and our heartfelt prayers are with the people of Alton.

The presence of our worldwide leader, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is central to the Jalsa and he guides us to care for humanity and work for peace – as is required by our faith. It is a message that draws our people to Alton from all corners of the world. 

But the Jalsa also is an opportunity for us to welcome local guests from various walks of life. This year, local representatives attending included Damian Hinds MP, Cllr Andy Tree, leader of the Whitehill Town Council and Hampshire county councillor, and Ben Hamlin, mayor of Alton, all of whom spoke at the Jalsa.

Thick mud at Jalsa Salana 2023 at Oaklands Farm, East Worldham
Thick mud at Jalsa Salana 2023 at Oaklands Farm, East Worldham (Adeel Shah)

Damian Hinds said: “To see a community, especially one that has faced persecution around the world, come together in such numbers to celebrate love and friendship, is a moving experience.”

Damian commended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for its resilience in hosting an unprecedented number of guests under inadequate weather conditions, saying: “Of course, it does mean more traffic on local roads, but the organisation is incredibly impressive, with a huge number of volunteers making it run smoothly… 

“In this time of great global challenges, the work they do to promote cohesion and the common good has never been more relevant or more important.” 

His sentiments were echoed by Cllr Tree, who expressed his admiration for the immense charitable contributions the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has made to the local community and its surrounding areas, while Cllr Ben Hamlin gave a very warm personal welcome to the attendees to this beautiful part of the UK. 

Their words echoed the friendship of many neighbours and friends who took time out to be with us as well.

We are, of course, only too aware of challenges this year with traffic on the first day or so because of adverse weather conditions, roadworks and the work of a new traffic management company, and while we took measures to resolve this we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Looking ahead, we will be working to ensure the event runs even more smoothly in future. 

Despite this we were heartened by the warmth and goodwill of our neighbours in terms of their understanding and support, and it is only right that we take this opportunity to thank the many local people who have lent us their support and sent messages of goodwill. 

It means a lot to us.

Jalsa Salana is a truly unique event in many ways. It sends out a message of peace and harmony to the whole world and when we experience that sense of togetherness right here in Alton then it is our prayer that where Alton leads then the world will follow.