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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. The Real Talk

    Ahmadis are NOT real Muslims. They aren't considered so in any way shape or form in the muslim world. They are scratching for power and to win te hearts of others because they have NO place in Islam when they've changed it. They are propaganda. Their founder died on the toilet. Their so called leader collects money from every member so he can floss. No muslim Imaam in the country currently needs a bodyguard yet he has secret service like protection. They are trying to become the face and name of Islam yet cannot and do not even speak religion or join in congregation with any other Muslims because they cannot handle being enlightened what the truth is. May God show these fools the right path.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • The Real Talk

      They also get kicked out of ther cult for marrying other Muslims. I heard this happened to a friend of a friend.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  2. Devoneco

    The LORD then gave these further instructions to Moses: 'Tell the people of Israel to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you forever. It helps you to remember that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Yes, keep the Sabbath day, for it is holy. Anyone who desecrates it must die; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. Work six days only, but the seventh day must be a day of total rest. I repeat: Because the LORD considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.' (Exodus 31:12-15 NLT)

    July 8, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  3. Devoneco

    But if this charge is true (that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)

    July 8, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  4. Devoneco

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. "The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him." (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

    July 8, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  5. Devoneco

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    July 8, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  6. Devoneco

    Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. (Isaiah 14:21 NAB)

    July 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  7. Devoneco

    If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

    July 7, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  8. godisimaginary.com

    Seriously though, how do Muslims deal with having a kid humper for a prophet?
    How do christians deal with having a schizophrenic madman as a god?
    Your fvcking stupid to believe any of that sh•t. There are 10 billon solar systems in a galaxy, there are 100 billion galaxies in the expanding universe. No god. Know lets move society in a positive direction.

    July 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  9. Akmed Salish

    I am Muslim from Saudia Arabia and women are more or less chattel. They are comparable to horses and do not drive here. We cover them from head to toe because we don't want other men to see our property and get jealous. Most have arraigned marriages where profit can be gained and women become wives at 12 in some cases.

    July 7, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  10. taha

    NO CMENTS

    July 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  11. 100 year old colored fella

    Can't stand smelly muslims

    July 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  12. jfb

    He looks evil

    July 7, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  13. Jhon Jaques

    Thank you CNN for another pro- muslim report. I wonder when you will start to write something good about real christianity..oh wait ..cnn is anti-christian.. i forgat..sorry...

    July 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • jfb

      it's actually "forgot"

      July 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • 100 year old colored fella

      muslims have the devils in dem

      July 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • fadi

      Dude ahmedis ain't no Muslims they are wrost than Hindus and Jews

      July 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • TR6

      Because there is very little good in real christians to report about

      July 8, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  14. taha

    humanity first....... our organisation and our mission to spread the message LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE.. AHMADI..

    July 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • jfb

      lol

      July 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • colors

      Your "teacher" is an anti-Christ. Do not believe in him or anyother, exept Jesus Christ.!

      July 7, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  15. Muhammed

    "Those who don't believe in Allah will burn in hellfire" – Quran

    "Do not take Christians or Jews are your friend" – Quran

    "Those who don't accept Islam should be persecuted" – Quran

    July 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • colors

      You are an idiot. Hatred spreader brainless-brainwashed.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  16. adam

    AS an ahmadi muslim from canada Hazoor r in toronto an we going going to see him on annual jalsa today was second day tommorw will be last day about 25000 people gather alacross canada and its great blessing for canada Hazoor is here and MAY Allah bless ahmadis across world and bless canada as well

    July 7, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Muhammed, the pedophile

      Your Allah never exist

      July 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • 100 year old colored fella

      screw stinky muslims

      July 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  17. Salim

    ISLAM WILL TAKE OVER AMERICA INSALLAH LIKE WE DONE IN EUROPE MASALLAH!

    Allah Akbar. We welcome everyone to join Islam. Islam = peace

    July 7, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • colors

      Another brainwashed, follower of Satan.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  18. l am happy

    I am an American Muslim. I really love to be a Muslim, and l am broad to be an American. Being a good Muslim makes me to be a better citizen–contributing to the society. l think a lot of you guys who posted hate comments would have understood lslam better if they would have lived in Islamic predominantly society. Because when you are majority, you see things differently. Secondly, educate yourselves about other cultures and religion by knowing that there are people who are different than you.

    July 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • !

      Fk you and your cult religion

      Muhammed was a fake pe.dophile "prophet"

      July 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Reason

      Muslims will never be tolerated in Europe and Americas your b!tch

      July 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • colors

      Do you mean living in Iran and Saudi Arabia?! No, Thank's!

      July 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  19. llatpoh

    So... do Ahmadis support EQUAL rights for minorities (e.g. racial and religious) and Women??? If not, we've got the same old same old bullsh**t...

    July 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Saleem

      Women have equal rights. I would request you to read about this at Alislam.org and you will find how women are participating in every walk of life In this community.

      It is said “Best among you is the one who is best to family” and “paradise lies under the feet of mothers”.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Muhammed, the pedophile

      Saleem your liar

      Why are Moslem women forced to wear burqa in Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.? Why can't women vote or drive?
      Shovel that Quran in your Azzhole

      July 7, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Saleem

      Ahmadees do not represent the action of Saudi or other muslim world. I would request you to read about the our community on CNN blog and that will tell you the message of Ahmadees is love and we only believe that we can only win the hearts and all religions had the same message

      July 7, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • MA

      Women in Ahmediyya jamat have second class status.They can not contest elections in which men are also contesting.Women can not be the head of their community.

      July 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  20. Reality

    From p. 1:

    "They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:
    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,
    The second, religious without intellect"

    Al-Ma'arri
    AD 973 -AD 1058 /

    July 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
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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.