Posted by Rafiq A. Tschannen
by Shahina Bashir
The women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, held it’s weekend long Annual East Coast Ijtema (gathering) at the Baitur Rahman mosque in Silver Spring, MD. The Ijtema began on August 31st and concluded on September 2nd. Nine hundred women and girls attended this event. This year’s theme was “Choosing Islam When Culture Disagrees.” The event included several workshops, panel discussions, separate activities for girls aged 7 to 15, and a bazaar.
Attendees came from as far north as Boston, Massachusetts and as far south as Orlando, Florida. Sadiqa Mian drove down from Boston with her husband and three children. They arrived on Friday and left on Sunday after the event. It took them eight and a half hours but it was all worth it.
View slideshow: East Coast Ijtema of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
“It’s been six years, so I think we were desperately missing it,” Mian said. Although the Ijtema is an annual event, there hadn’t been one in this area since 2006 as the mosque had been under extension and renovation. “We should keep having these every year. It’s spiritually rejuvenating to see other women of our Community, especially for us who don’t see such big gatherings and for our kids to see so many other girls of their own age. It’s very important,” she added.
The opening session on Friday included a workshop on understanding the difference between culture and religion. As Islam spread from Arabia to the outside territories many of the local cultures and customs seeped into the religious practices. It has thus become necessary to distinguish what is Islamic practice and what is the local custom. An example mentioned is the preference for a male child over a female- a custom that is prevalent in the South Asian community. This custom has nothing to do with Islam as there is no preference mentioned in the Quran or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
In this growing age of materialism it is appropriate to discuss the difference between necessity and extravagance. A workshop was held titled “Extravagance and the Race for Materialistic Gains.” The presenters showed video clips which showed images of lavish houses juxtaposed with those of starving children in Africa. The idea was to make the audience get a sense of the importance of leading a life of modesty rather than one of luxury so as to be able to give out of their possessions to those who are in need. Giving to the less fortunate is one of the tenets of Islam.
Nasra Syed drove from Research Triangle, North Carolina with two women from her chapter along with their daughters. She drove for five hours. This was not her first Ijtema but like Sadiqa Mian, she too came for the spiritual rejuvenation.
“These kinds of experiences are always spiritually lifting for us,” Syed said. “We get rejuvenated with our spirituality, with our sisterhood, and I think that’s the best part of it. We leave this place rejuvenated to take back to our community and try and instill what we have learned here over there,” she added.
Hadzira Drljic left her native country of Bosnia in 1999 for a better future in the US. She settled in Utica, New York with her husband. It was at this time that she also became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Drljic came to Maryland with her sister-in-law to attend the Ijtema. This was her first. The two of them stayed at the mosque as did several other women.
“I think it’s healthy to go over our life experiences and to share with each other and to hopefully strengthen our beliefs and our faith and point out each other’s failures and mistakes so that we can hopefully learn from each other,” Drljic said.
While the women were engaged in their programs, the young girls between the ages of seven and fifteen were busy with their own schedule of events. Saamia Bashir, 12, from Germantown was quite impressed by the general organization of the three-day event. Her favorite item was the “Pass the parcel” game.
“I liked the ‘Pass the parcel’ game because each layer had a different question and everyone had a different opinion and everyone enjoyed it,” Bashir said. “I also liked the Ijtema because I got to meet my cousins and friends whom I don’t get to see often as they live in other cities,” she added.
Quratul Ain Rehman, a college student, flew from Orlando with her mother. Speaking about her experience of the weekend she said, “I feel incredibly blessed for having had the opportunity to attend this year’s Ijtema. Being in the company of my fellow sisters and respected elders is always a pleasure and I take it as an opportunity to exchange personal experiences and to seek inspiration from one another.”
The Ijtema concluded with comments from the National President of the Women’s Auxiliary, Saliha Malik.
“The purpose of this Ijtema is for our moral training and it’s for our own Community,” Malik said. “Our Community needs to come together. We need to remind ourselves about our moral training, about our sisterhood, about our faith and trust in God,” she further added.
The attendees were indeed spiritually uplifted and went away with inspiration and with the hope of getting together again next year.