USA: Muslim youth retreat preaches ‘love for all’

CLIFTON — Clifton mosque members practiced “love for all, hatred for none” during their May retreat to strengthen their faith.

Five young men of Clifton’s Baitul Wahid mosque’s congregation of 350 attended a long weekend retreat in Yosemite National Park in California late last month. The Clifton mosque is one of three mosques in the state affiliated with the Ahmadi sect of Muslims, currently headed by their elected spiritual leader, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the great grandson of the sect’s founder.

Five young men from Clifton’s Baitul Wahid mosque congregation attended a retreat to strengthen their faith recently. The Ahmadi Muslims practiced ‘love for all, hatred for none’ at the retreat.
The sect, founded in 1889, has “tens of millions” of members in more than 200 countries, according to the website Al Islam, the official website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The group has faced persecution and violence in countries such as Pakistan, where they are considered “non-Muslim” due to a 1974 Pakistani constitutional amendment, according to several international news sources.

Ahmadi Muslims believe their promised savior has already returned in the form of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadi sect of Muslims and lived in a small village in Punjab, India until his death in 1908. During his time, the elder Ahmad promoted “universal brotherhood,” “interfaith dialogue” and claimed to be the latter day reformer of Islam.

Since the motto was first coined in 2008, Ahmadi Muslims have officially adopted the phrase “love for all, hatred for none.”

Anwar Muhammad, northern New Jersey youth leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association and Clifton mosque congregant, said the goal of the retreat, or “ijtema” in Urdu and Arabic, is to help build community and strong foundations of faith in young Muslim men.

“The real concept was to make sure that Ahmadiyya Muslim youth stay attached to the community and also know what their true Muslim identity is,” he added.

The retreat hosted 570 boys and men ages 15 to 40 this year, but he added gatherings can host up to 1,200 faithful. Retreats have been held annually for nearly 50 years since the founding of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association in the United States in 1939.

Muhammad said retreats are also held for young Muslim women, in addition to retreats for older members of the congregation.

Muhammad said the Clifton mosque on Crooks Avenue not only serves congregants from the city, but all across northern New Jersey and parts of New York. He counted congregants who commute from Parsippany, Randolph and Rockaway for weekly prayer services. Ahmadi mosques in New Jersey are also located in Willingboro and Old Bridge.

The retreat served to bond the young Muslim community together, while creating a strong moral foundation, said Muhammad.

Kick-off activities included a dual flag-raising of the American and the black and white Ahmadiyya Muslim Community flag in the presence of all attendees.

“We want to make sure, especially the young kids, they really identify themselves as loyal, true Americans,” said Muhammad. “The media,… politics and everything aside, we want to make sure our kids growing up in America are true Americans and love of the land is a part of our faith.”

Participants played volleyball, basketball and cricket, when not hiking on Yosemite’s forested grounds. They also took part in academic and athletic competitions, and attended talks at an amphitheater.

“Other than hikes and other park activities, we had prayer — five daily prayers— and we also had dinner, lunch and breakfast so everyone came together, sitting with each other and getting to know each other from different parts of the country.”

The activities serve as a spring board for conversation throughout the year through email and social media. The group talks online “a lot” following retreats, he said.

The highlight of the second part of the trip was hiking Half Dome, Yosemite’s granite peak which sits at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, said Muhammad. Only 10 of the 500-some participants had the opportunity to scale its face, but Cloud’s Rest and Upper Yosemite Falls were other options, which saw those on the retreat hiking alongside other visitors to the park on a weekend hike.

“If you look from 5,000 feet down to the valley, you feel so close to the Creator,” he said of his personal experience on the trip.

When back home in Clifton, Baitul Wahid mosque organizes monthly family get-togethers, topic discussions, blood drives, tree plantings and volunteer time at soup kitchens, said Muhammad.

“We believe in winning hearts through true love, not through hatred or extremism, because in Islam, we believe there is no place for extremism,” said Muhammad.

Each year, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community hosts a National Peace Symposium in the United Kingdom and in 2014 hosted the Conference of World Religions, which featured religious leaders from around the world.

“You cannot go argue or fight with anyone over religion. We believe in tolerance… That’s ‘love for all, hatred for none.'”

Email: katz@northjersey.com

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Source/Credit: NorthJersey.com
By Maggie Katz | July 1, 2016