“Nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth.” These were the words of the late Mirza Bashirudeen Mahmood the second spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
We all know that white building in the Bushy Park area near Gutters on Old Harbour main road. Some call it a temple; some call it the Muslim Church. Some even wonder what actually happens inside. Do they make bombs, or store weapons? Is it an ISIS building?
Umair Khan, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Jamaica always smiles every time such questions are thrown at him.
“That white building is a place of worship for Muslims called a Mosque. Muslims worship God five times a day so it is a place for people to gather and worship. That is the main purpose of the building,” explained Khan.
He also explains that there are two main purposes for a Muslim. First is to serve mankind and the second purpose is to worship God. Missionary Khan says that he has noticed that many youth in the area find themselves into trouble with crime for a number of reasons.
One big reason he says is that many youth just don’t have much to do in the area and end up getting in trouble. There aren’t many programs for youth and children to stay busy and active. He also wishes there were more youth leaders who would become role models for the children.
“I rather have children look up to young leaders in the community rather than celebrities and artistes they see on television who don’t always present good messages for today’s youth,” he said.
With that in mind Missionary Khan has formed the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization to start up programmes and sports which ultimately helps to counsel children and other youth through a variety of initiatives.
“We have started football games for youth and divided them into teams according to their age and size. We always have one of the youth leaders coaching, organizing, and counselling the children and all the games take place on the mosque property,” says Khan.
The local leader says they are trying to teach children not to just become better players, but also learn principles and good behaviour. He has also made members of his youth organization the leading organizers of the sports programmess.
“One way to teach young people to become leaders is to give them responsibility. Show them you trust them. When they see they have pressure on them, and the eyes of children watching them, it pushes them to make themselves better people. Eventually the kids start looking up to them and they know they have to keep that image of being role models by carrying themselves in a respectful manner,” Khan said.
It is not only young children that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization is trying to help through sports. It’s also young adults. The Mosque has recently started adult basketball every Friday afternoon for players around the community.
“Everyone is welcome to come. I don’t care what religion you are from, what colour your skin is. Islam teaches us that skin colour and religious background is no prerequisite to judge anyone. Prophet Muhammad used to live side by side with Christians, Jews, and Pagans in peace. Our religion teaches us that it is a person’s character and righteousness that should be considered,” he argued.
Keeping that in mind, the youth organizers for the sports at the Mosque welcome everyone but give a stern warning to all players.
“If anyone becomes disrespectful, fights, curses...they get one warning and if it continues after that I absolutely do not shy away from personally escorting them off the property to leave. We do not tolerate any rude or disrespectful behaviour here,” said Jermaine Spraggs.
He says he has seen good change in the children by implanting these rules. It is not just through sports the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is helping the community, he said.
Khan says that one of the core teachings of his community is to strive to succeed through intellect and knowledge.
“Education is so important in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad said if you have to travel as far as China to attain knowledge then you should go,” he said.
It is no surprise that the community is also involved in hosting adult literacy classes at the Mosque organized by the Bushy Park Community Development Committee (BPCDC).
“The CDC approached us over a year ago asking if they can use our facility for these classes. We were so happy to let them use our facility for such a noble cause and see such an amazing change in many of the students,” he said.
Ms. Audrey Maragh, Justice of the Peace and a member of the BPCDC, says “we were looking for a place to conduct these classes and approached many religious organizations in the area but no one was ready to give us a facility for our classes. We saw this beautiful white building, this Mosque and decided to ask them and they gladly agreed and let us hold our classes here regularly twice a week.”
This small and very new Muslim community of Old Harbour goes beyond just providing sports and education for the surrounding communities.
“Another core teaching of Islam is to help others. Help the weak, the poor, the orphans. Give in charity, visit the sick, help your communities” says Khan. “These are the values we teach our Muslim members at the Mosque. And our intention for doing all this is not to please people, rather to please God to help serve His creation. If you love the artist you must also love his art!”
Khan says his community members regularly go out into the community for street cleaning, giving food to the poor, giving charity to the less fortunate, organizing back-to-school programmes, etc.
The community has also tried a new initiative by having young volunteers come from abroad to visit Jamaica and help those who are less fortunate.
Missionary Khan says “people usually want to visit Jamaica and go to fancy resorts and beaches in Negril or Ocho Rios. But we tell our volunteers that if you want to come visit our Mosque in Old Harbour, we don’t have white sand beaches but we can show you Island Farm, Church Pen, Africa and other communities in Old Harbour.”
This, he said, gives young volunteers from first world countries a taste of reality that Jamaicans live with every day and they are left in awe.
Said Khan: “I have seen volunteers come here to help local Jamaicans in the Old Harbour area and it had a deep effect on them seeing the difficult conditions some people are living in.”
With all these programmes happening at the Mosque, one would think the Old Harbour Muslim community has an army of volunteers and members helping. When asked how much the membership of his community is Khan smiles and says “we, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, are only about 100 in all of Jamaica. Although we number in the tens of millions worldwide, we are a very new community in Jamaica. Our Mosque was built in 2011 so we have a lot of work to do here in Jamaica”.
Khan points out that there are many other Muslim communities in Jamaica from the Sunni or Shia branch of Islam, but Ahmadiyya Muslim branch of Islam is still in its newborn stages working in Jamaica. With just a handful of volunteers eagerly working for the community, we can only wonder what to expect in the coming years.