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Islamic sect has appealing message for U.S. politicians but has global enemies
Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, presides over a sermon to his followers in suburban Washington, D.C.
July 7th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Islamic sect has appealing message for U.S. politicians but has global enemies

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – You’ve almost certainly never heard of him, but Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad drew some serious star power at a recent Capitol Hill reception in his honor.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican Sen. John Cornyn were among the many lawmakers who showed up to meet Ahmad, a Muslim leader who was in town last week on a rare U.S. visit from London.

At a time when the United States is struggling with its views about Islam – as Islamists gain power in the Middle East and with ongoing concerns about Quran-citing terrorists – it’s not hard to see Ahmad’s appeal to both parties. As he said in his Capitol Hill speech, he has “love for all, hatred for none.”

It’s a sentiment that Sen. Robert Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, echoed in introducing Ahmad, praising the “leadership you have shown to tolerance and to peace.”

It’s not just Ahmad who espouses his can’t-we-all-get-along read on Islam. The 61-year-old is the spiritual leader of the global Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, whose friendliness toward the West and whose criticism of other Muslims has earned the sect allies at the highest level of the U.S government, even as it faces mortal enemies in other parts of the world.

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Unlike most Muslims, Ahmadis believe that the 19th century founder of their sect was the metaphorical Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

It’s because of that belief that Sunni and Shiite Muslims do not regard Ahmadis as true Muslims. The rift has provoked Egypt to charge Ahmadis with blasphemy, Saudi Arabia to deport them and Pakistan to pass a law that designates Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

Persecuted abroad

On a sweltering recent Friday, a long line of people sat patiently in a mosque on the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington. Despite the heat and humidity, they seemed happy to be there, waiting for a chance to meet the leader of their faith.

Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who leads an international Ahmadi community is the sect’s fifth Khalifa, or leader. The group claims tens of millions of followers around the world, but outside experts say the number is smaller, in the millions.

For Ahmad and his followers, their relatively small sect is the real face of Islam, which has more than a billion followers around the world.

“It is time that we, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, should give the real and true picture of Islam,” Ahmad said in an interview inside the Silver Spring mosque. “I will always be talking about peace. That peace is not from myself or some new teaching but it is the true, real teaching which I gather and get from the holy Quran.”

That emphasis, says Ahsanullah Zafar, the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, is rooted in a belief that the only jihad worth practicing is against one’s own self – a jihad of self-improvement. The word jihad is often translated as struggle or war.

“Even more important than prayer, which we talk about a lot, is how you behave as a human being,” Zafar said. “It is not physical fighting that accomplishes anything. It is dialogue and the progressivism that leads somewhere.”

Founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect is the only Islamic group that believes that a second prophet has come, in the form of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmad lived at a time of great religious upheaval, said Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University.

“In India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad said that he has the message of the renewal of Islam,” Ahmed said. “Slowly it began to build momentum - it is a kind of spirited, modern version of Islam.”

Ahmed characterized the makeup of the Ahmadis as “very scholarly, very prominent leaders in Pakistan.”

But when the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party in Pakistan, began to push the country to a more orthodox view of Islam in the 1970s, the Ahmadis were cast out.

Jamaat-e-Islami argued that the Ahmadis did not conform to a key tenet of Islam – the finality of the prophet Mohammed. “That is the elephant in the room for the Ahmadis,” said American University’s Ahmed. “The Ahmadis say that there are two kind of prophets. One is the lawgiver. Then there are messengers who come with a message and not necessarily a new book.”

In light of the crackdown, many Ahmadis began to leave Pakistan, some as religious refugees. Large numbers of Ahmadis now live in Germany, England, Ghana, Canada and the United States, where the Ahmadis claim tens of thousands of followers.

But persecution persists.

In 2010, almost 100 people were killed when two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, were attacked by men armed with hand grenades and AK-47s.

In the U.S. government’s 2012 International Religious Freedom Report, the plight of Pakistan’s Ahmadis was front and center.

“Among Pakistan‘s religious minorities, Ahmadis are subject to the most severe legal restrictions and officially sanctioned discrimination,” reads the report. The same report outlined violence against Ahmadis in Indonesia, where it said that at least 50 Ahmadiyya mosques have been vandalized.

A unique view of Islam

Harsh treatment in various corners of the world has instilled a deep Ahmadi appreciation for life in the United States.

“In America, all these small Muslim communities are flourishing, they love being in America,” said Ahmed. “They are 100% Muslim and they are 100% American.”

Ahmad, the Ahmadis’ current leader, was in the United States for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s annual convention, which drew 10,000 to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last week.

“Wherever I go I have one goal … to meet my people,” Ahmad said.

But he was also here to meet politicians and journalists. For the Ahmadis, the scrutiny of American Muslims in the decade since 9/11 has been treated as an opportunity to discuss beliefs and answer questions.

Many in the community came out in favor of Rep. Peter King’s, R-New York, insistence last year on holding congressional hearings on radicalization within American Islam, even as other Muslim groups blasted the hearings as anti-Muslim.

“If the government thinks that congressional hearings will improve homeland security and help expose those exploiting Islam, I assure full cooperation. I, too, aspire to have a more secure America,” wrote Kashif N. Chaudhry, the director of an Ahmadi youth program in the United States, in a New York Times letter to the editor.

Chaudhry was hardly the only Ahmadi Muslim to speak up.

“You need to be with other people, you need to talk about your ideas and in that conversation and discussion, new things arise,” said Zafar. “It is like throwing the seed and putting water on it, you need the seed and you need the water for it to sprout.”

“We need to come together with the people around us in the United States, we need to do that and see how it flowers,” he continued.

The split between the Ahmadis and other Islamic sects is also apparent in how Ahmad, the sect’s leader, talks about extremists.

“Nowadays, Islam is being targeted only because of so-called Muslim groups who claim themselves to be Muslims but are not following the true teachings of Islam,” Ahmad said, speaking of what he calls “fundamentalists Muslims.” “If it is that Islam that is being portrayed by those orthodox Muslims, then I don’t think there is any chance in spreading Islam.”

Using terms like “so-called Muslims,” to refer to some outsiders has not endeared Ahmadis to other Muslims. Leading Sunni and Shiite groups are reluctant to even talk about the Ahmadis.

CNN contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America, two major Muslim groups, and neither responded to requests for comment.

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A future in America

Zafar, the leader of the Ahmadis in the United States, said his sect is looking to grow.

The group has an organized media operation and operates three 24/7 satellite-television channels under the name Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International.

The initial purpose of the channels was to broadcast the sermons of the Khalifa, but it also provides other programs in different languages. The Silver Spring mosque is surrounded by large satellite dishes that beam the shows around the world.

In addition to satellite television, the Ahmadis run Islam International Publications, a publishing outfit.

Many Ahmadis are concerned about the version of Islam being portrayed in the media, which they say is too focused on the radical elements of Islam and not focused enough on peaceful Muslims.

“Right now there is a caricature of Islam,” said Zafar. “The biggest challenge I believe in the United States is for Muslims to get out of that image of extremist behaviors which are so popular in the press.”

Ahmed of American University sees the future of the Ahmadis as a bridge between Islam and the West.

“On the American side, they [the Ahmadis] are acting as a positive bridge to Islam and the Americans need that right now,” he said. “And then for Muslims, if they do link up and join mainstream Muslims, they are able to give Islam a link to the world and also help them work out these polemics that are tearing the world apart.”

For now, Ahmadis are stuck in between those two worlds.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Ahmadi Muslims believe their founder was the Second Coming of the Prophet Mohammed. They believe he was the metaphorical Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Islam

soundoff (1,074 Responses)
  1. LogIK

    I think we can all agree that there is only one true God and it is Mitt Romney's bank account. I hear he is very devout and worships there frequently.

    July 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  2. sasss31

    Isn't this kind of like Bahai'sm?

    July 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • LogIK

      Sir please don't use profanity on this site.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  3. LogIK

    If not for religion (and Republicans) we'd have Starships by now....

    July 7, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Unknown

      right....yet communist atheistic leaders killed over 100 million during ww2 not including Hitler?

      Right.Science built the first atomic bomb and advanced that into nuclear weapons.Science not religion created that.

      You live in a fairy-tale world.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • TR6

      @Unknown:” You live in a fairy-tale world.”

      No, I live in a world that not only has real atomic bombs. It also has real medical science, real aviation and real internet amongst countless others, all thanks to science.
      The only things religion has that seems to be real is religious wars and hatred of anyone different.
      I’ll make you a deal, I’ll give up everything religion has given me if you give up everything science has given the world
      Please go away and live with everything your “real” religion has given the word

      July 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  4. lewtwo

    ISLAM: The worlds largest organized hate group.

    July 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • LogIK

      and beheading factory....

      July 7, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Realdirect

      Catholic's have nothing to talk about....talk to your gay & pedophile priest. HAVE YOU FORGOT!!! We haven't!!!!

      July 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • TR6

      2nd largest

      July 7, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  5. aysha85

    Ahmadiyya Muslim believe that Muhamad saw is the last prophet. However, in every age and time there is a REFROMER who comes and teaches the believers their unforgettable teachings. Do you think at this time of age Islam does not need any reformer? Look at the Muslim people around the world they have totally forgotten the real teachings of Islam, Holy Quran and Holy Pophet saw. There will not be a miracle that these people will come on the right path without any GUIDANCE.

    July 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • ayesha

      Ayesha AA Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet as prophesized by syedna muhummad (pbuh).

      July 7, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • jasim

      The Messiah will come, with his original name Jesus or Eesah. He will destroy the anti-christ, and destroy the cross. Now did the founder ever did that? i doubt it. A little reading of Quran (ch 43) should clear things up.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  6. Sagebrush Shorty

    "CNN contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America, two major Muslim groups, and neither responded to requests for comment." That's all you need to know.

    July 7, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • LogIK

      it was "Be-heading Friday" they were busy sir.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  7. Everett Wallace

    that's why the united states is broke! muslims. gotta hate religion

    July 7, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  8. Shakira

    These people are not Muslims, the end of the Prophets came with Muhammad (pbuh) any other that claims it is wrong and anyone who follows it are not a believer of Islam. These people are heretics. That being said they should not be killed for it, they will be punished on the Day of Judgement by Allah (swt) I testify there is no God but God and Muhammed is his messenger.

    July 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      Sure.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • William

      Mohammed was a pedophile and a violent terrorist. So, god sent him back to repent and reform. So, the second time he tried to act a little better than he did the first time. Hope it clarifies your confusion.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Shakira

      Good to know that you have THE truth, just like all the other 'believers.'

      Peace...

      July 7, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • William

      Ahmadiyya are peaceful muslims. Therefore, Pakistanis Sunni muslims are killing them.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • rick

      believe what you will. you can in the "west". lots of luck in the "east".

      July 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • LogIK

      What would Jeebus do?

      July 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • LogIK

      Your hips don't lie Shakira

      July 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • TR6

      I will gladly welcome 2 of your heretics into America for every 1 true muslim that leaves America for a purer and more holy county that practices god’s law (sharia)

      July 7, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  9. aysha85

    vidoe:

    July 7, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  10. aysha85

    July 7, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  11. John

    Great videos posted below. Thank you folks!

    July 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  12. aysha85

    A MESSAGE OF PEACE : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORjrP7_Wtis

    July 7, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  13. aysha85

    Ahmadiyya Muslim community are severly being persecuted in Asian countries with no Justice at all. There are ongoing examples of persecution and violence with no gaurantee of their lives, children, property to be saved. With all those persecution, following the true teachings of Holy Quran and Islam, Ahmadiyya Muslim community do not take revenge in any sort which would harm the nation's peace or loyalty for the contry. We pray for those who misunderstand us and for all the people who even harm us our motto: "LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE"

    July 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Commenter

      "LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE"

      Very nice.

      No god(s) necessary.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  14. John

    @AtheismIsNotHealthy you should grow up and watch this video. It was posted earlier and you apparently missed it.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      I did not miss it. I just choose to ignore it because it challenges my dogmatic belief system and I have no rational response.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

      Revelation 3:9

      Amen.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Here's another good video:

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUFUujSNpEU&w=640&h=360]

      July 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @b4bigbang

      LMAO !!!!!! I'm an agnostic-atheist and that truly was god d amn f ucking funny !!! 😀

      Thanks for posting !

      Peace...

      July 7, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  15. Trumpy

    “The biggest challenge I believe in the United States is for Muslims to get out of that image of extremist behaviors which are so popular in the press.”

    Trust me, most Americans would love that. The big problem is that so few Americans feel they see a true counter-voice to the fundamentalism that is out there. Even the moderates seem to excuse the fundamentalists half the time saying they wouldn't do it, but they see why others do. A true Islamic sect that is really about peace and tolerance would be something all Americans would love to befriend.

    July 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  16. aysha85

    "Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith." Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

    July 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human … the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength...Albus Dumbledore

      July 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • TR6

      Honestly, I’m much kinder now then when I was a Christian. It seems to me that the most faithful are the least kind.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 7, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Prayer proves that god can't make up her mind.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      I am religious and do not care about others. That is why I call other people useless. I am a pathetic Jesus freak.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Trumpy

      Your patheticness in ALWAYS showing up to post the same message, no matter the topic being discussed. For the love of god, get a life.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes otherwise rational adults into believing in imaginary friends.

    July 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  19. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt

    I found this great video. Enjoy!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z4iaUFSkME&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

      Matthew 13:19

      Amen.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  20. lol noob

    funny how cnn is spreading false info among the americans who are illiterate about islam. Ahmadiyya != Muslim as Islam the five pillars, it is a cult just like Nation of Islam. They are not related to Muslims as you know them the sunnis or shiaates

    July 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      noob, what part of John 14:6 do you not understand?

      Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

      Amen.

      July 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Salim_Ahmadi

      Be honest; and educate the rest as to which of the 5 pillars that Ahmadies do not accept. Mere utterance of the Shahadah (the first pillar) is the minimum requirement to be a Muslim. Do you claim to have been given the authority to change the definition and it better be from higher power.

      July 7, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • TR6

      I will gladly welcome 3 Ahmadiyya into America for every 1 true muslim that leaves America for a purer and more holy county. Honestly, why do you choose to live amongst infidels and put up with their constant blasphemies when you could live in a country where the dust of the infidel would never trouble your feet

      July 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.