Religious Freedom starring at the National Peace Symposium 2024


On March 9, 2024, in London, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at (AMJ) hosted the 18th National Peace Symposium. Among the many guests were Alessandro Amicarelli, Chairman of FOB, and Marco Respinti, member of FOB's Advisory Council and editor-in-chief of the academic publication The Journal of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) and the CESNUR project  Bitter Winter: A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights. A report by Marco Respinti on the event and its significance follows.

The Caliph of Ahmadi Muslims Has No Magic Solution for Peace—But He Has Some Wise Ideas

At the 2024 National Peace Symposium in London, he said that religion is not the cause of war, but the solution.

While it is subject to violence in several countries, notably state persecution in Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (AMJ) (“jama’at” meaning “community”) unceasingly works for peace. This was demonstrated once again by the 2024 National Peace Symposium in London, England, the UK, that AMJ hosted on March 9, 2024. Significantly, it was the eve of Ramadan (lasting this year until April 9), the ninth month in the Muslim calendar that, through fasting and prayers, strongly underlines the spiritual dimension of all things.

Marco respinti at 2024 National Peace Symposium

Left: Marco Respinti with His Holiness Sahibzada Mirza Ahmad Masroor Sahib, the 5th Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (photos courtesy of the Makhzan-e-Tasaweer Image Library). 
Right: Marco Respinti, Alessandro Amicarelli and Peter Zoherer (Secretary General and Editor-in-chief of FOREF Europe).

The venue of the event was the Baitul Futuh (“House of Victories”) Mosque in Morden, a district and town in Merton, the southern borough of London. A new complex of the mosque was inaugurated in 2023 after a serious fire had destroyed the previous one in 2015. More than 1,200 people attended. Among them, 550 dignitaries and guests from thirty countries, including ambassadors, Members of Parliaments, and academics. The Caliph presented Adi Patricia Roche, founder of “Chernobyl Children International” (CCI), with the “Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace,” as well as David Spurdle, founder of the charity “Stand By Me,” with the “Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace.” They both distinguished themselves for their support and help of the needy, children first. “Bitter Winter” was there too.

Though by invitation only, the annual Peace Symposium is one of the two major public events of the Ahmadis in the UK, the other being the “Jalsa Salana” (“Annual Gathering”), their yearly meeting of prayer. Since the leader of the Ahmadis, His Holiness Sahibzada Mirza Ahmad Masroor Sahib, the 5th Caliph, 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, those two events in the UK are of course also the most important Ahmadi events in the world. They are even highly political events.

The use of the word “political” in this context must be properly understood. In fact, the AMJ is apolitical when it comes to party politics, but it is licit to use the word in a broader—and nobler—sense.

2024-03-09 18th National Peace Symposium

An image of the Peace Symposium

Quintessentially religious, the Ahmadis’ Jalsa Salana and Peace Symposium in the UK are political events as well, because they (a) address the world, (b) set the tone of the Ahmadi “polis”—an ancient Greek word we may use here to translate “jama’at,” or “community”—, and (c) aim at deriving public behavior from spirituality taken seriously. The annual Peace Symposium itself is also strategic for understanding how the Ahmadi Caliph intends to offer Islam as a means for reconciliation to humanity: in the words he uttered delivering his speech, “Islam teaches Muslims never to waver in the pursuit of peace.”

In fact, the Caliph insists on this topic in numerous occasions, perfectly knowing that others use the names of Islam, the Quran, and Mohammad to justify violence and war, ultimately offending God. He repeats this both directly and indirectly, publicly and privately. “Islam,” he said at the 2024 Peace Symposium, “literally means ‘peace’ and every aspect of its teachings reflects this meaning.”

Another passage of his speech was quite important. “In the Holy Quran,” he commented, “Allah the Almighty commands that where a person or nation has been wronged, they must never respond disproportionately or stray into realms of seeking revenge.” This of course applies to all sides of armed conflicts, those on-going included: to the enemies of Muslims, but also to Muslims themselves, who cannot justify terrorism (their adversaries cannot justify it either).

Remembering that, “[w]e must all come together, setting aside national, political, and other vested interests for the greater good of humanity and to ensure that we leave behind a prosperous world for our future generations,” the Caliph stigmatized “[p]olitical leaders and those who have access to policymakers” when they become “blinded by selfish desires to assert their superiority over others,” instead of taking “a long-term view of what is in the best interests of mankind.”

It may be the product of the personal sensibility of the present writer, but the first time he mentioned the present war in the Middle East at the Peace Symposium, the Caliph called it a war between Israel and Hamas. He repeated this formula during his speech and avoided the easy but incorrect identification of Hamas with the Palestinians. This hermeneutics was even strengthened by the Caliph’s criticism of idea that the conflict is a “religious war.” He stated that it is a “geopolitical and territorial conflict.” One can agree with this opinion or not, totally or in part, but it is decisive for the Ahmadis’ perspective: the Caliph in fact added that, in that context, religion is not the problem, but may provide the solution.

This important consideration should be connected with the Caliph’s severe judgment on the United Nations. “Where a veto power exists,” he said, “the scales of justice can never be balanced… Regrettably, due to its inherent lack of justice, the fate of the United Nations seems set to mirror that of its failed predecessor, the League of Nations. And, if the system of international law, weak as it may be, completely collapses, the resulting anarchy and destruction is beyond our comprehension.”

2024-03-09 The Caliph addressing the Peace Symposium

The Caliph addressing the Peace Symposium

It is impossible to limit this strong consideration only to one geo-political section or region of the world. The Caliph was in fact speaking at a crowded event going live on YouTube, with several influential representatives from the political, academic, non-profit and media world from a wide range of countries. When a world leader of this weight, animated by the desire of constructing peace for the entire world, criticizes the main international organization supposed to operate for world peace, his judgment becomes an indictment. Several are in fact the scenarios where the UN, born out of an excellent idea, appears to be impotent or even dangerous. While the Caliph made it clear that his criticism aims at upholding the important role that the UN should perform, not at destroying it, surely the UN must help its helpers to help it.

Now, what may be the interest of “Bitter Winter,” given its focus on religious liberty, in such an event as the AMJ ’s Peace Symposium? The answer lies in the neat distinction between interfaith dialogue and religious liberty. The two fields can overlap, and some actors operate in both fields, but they remain different. At the Peace Symposium this was quite clear. Some of its participants work on building an interfaith dialogue. They may succeed or not. But this is not the ultimate frontier in the religions’ efforts for peace. The key to peace remains the right that every person has to truth. In its turn, this means that no one should ever become neither the victim of those who deny religion, not a tool in the hands of those who abuse the name of God to promote violence. Everyone’s right to believe should be respected. If this happens, a more decent world can be imagined, theological differences and disagreements notwithstanding.

The Ahmadi Caliph, who is the leader of a harshly persecuted religious community, calls all to acknowledge this minimum level of shared humanity. Yes, it all revolves around religious liberty.

Fiona Bruce, Alessandro Amicarelli and Marco Respinti

Fiona Bruce UK Prime Minister's Envoy for Religious Freedom with Alessandro Amicarelli and Marco Respinti

Article also published on Bitter Winter