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. Muslim for peace

    I m a woman. And I think Islam gave me the rights 1400 years ago which were given recently by others to women

    July 9, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  2. Sam Yaza

    I love you all,.....this blog is possible one of the best,.. keep me laughing Atheist vs Christians there is no better opportunity to witness stupidity in its natural state Christians keep being hypocrites, and Atheist keep being closed off in the modern scientific point of view holding theory truth,.. your lack of objectiveness is fun

    July 8, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • BG

      Likewise, everyone enjoys your mangling the syntax of the English language, so thanks.

      July 9, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes brown eyes to red. See it happen at prolapsed.net.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Frank

      Thank you! I see that prayer does indeed turn assholes inside out. Glory!

      July 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  4. Kebos

    Any religion looking to gain a foothold in society will spin a message of "let's just all get along" but once that religion is established, it will exert tighter control on all. Don't be disillusioned. Religion is the grand scam.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Unknown

      atheism is a scam as well.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, give it up, troll.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      See Unknowns mom take prayer deeeeeep inside her at prolapsed.net.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  5. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Stop being a slave to mere myths written by men to subjugate the simple minded. Stop praying and start helping.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  6. labandme

    Tell this to the muslim woman they shot 9 times. This islamic propaganda works for muslims in Arab countries but it doesn't work for most thinking Americans. When islam concedes that there are other religions who must be allowed to worship in peace without the threat of violence, then we'll talk. Otherwise the American politicians who cater to the muslim groups and their mosques are nothing but traiters and they have no consideration for the welfare and well being of the American citizens who voted them in to their high paying, cushy jobs.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  7. Muslim for peace

    True picture of peaceful Islam is thru Ahmadis

    July 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • echo

      Tell that to the women that his religion keeps under the bootheel.

      July 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • The Real Talk

      No it's not. Ahmadis aren't really Muslims.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. andrew4you

    I want to ask the new caliph of Islam, the following questions.
    1. if war breaks out between muslims and christians, purely on the basis of religion, would the AHMADIANS, fight with their other muslim world despite their differences against the christians in the name of their Allah.because you say you are the new caliph of all muslims,whether they like you or not.
    2. if you are the sprit of jesus,how come you order your followers to fight with the christians.becuase you are the leader of all humanbeings not only the muslims.
    3.when a new messenger reveals his prophecy,first of all he challenges the non believers who worship gods or dont believe in God. how many statues of gods you destroyed anywhere,because God doesn't like any sharing with Him.
    4. messengers of God have always been either shepherd or carpenters i mean very ordinary poors,so why you live in London and not among the poor massses in your communities.you live a lavish leaving. 5.when did you address the mass to come under your leadership or did you do it secretly.
    6. is there any difference between your new holy book and the previous one that you followed.
    7. what are the pillars of new Islam.
    Finally ,since you are the caliph of Muslims, how many disputes you have solved uptill now, does Syria comes under your jurisdiction


    July 8, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • echo

      Seriously, Atheism, people. It makes you at least 90% less crazypants.

      None of your nasty religions have good track records with war, womens' rights, liberal democracy, critical thinking, or science. If war were to break out between these two branches of nutty cult, I would hope they'd wipe themselves out and leave the planet for the grownups who believe in reality.

      July 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Unknown

      Its humans atheists..stop living in a fantasy world.

      July 8, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Mahid

      we dont fight anybody – since we fear God asking us of our actions – as he mentioned in the capitol hill adress http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Iu9VKncw5I – by promoting love for all hatred for none we seek to unite everyone under the banner of Islam and the misguided muslims must be re guided since they have split in to 72 factions from 1 perfect faith which the Prophet Muhhamad (pbuh) relayed to humanity – he doesnt rule anyone as ur under the impression – he would send the message of reason , logic and peace to the syrrian people and hope they accepted and learnt to fear God this in itself would lead to an increased sense of morality which would end bloodshed – He doesnt seek to fight chrisitians our founder claimed to be jesus in spirit since he came to reform the muslims as jesus came to reform the jews

      July 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  9. Hammad

    Love for all hatred for none, the righteous and pure ahmadi's will continue to move forward no matter what others have to say.Observe the message and seek the blessing from the Qu'ran. God is the only relation needed to make anything happen. Very nice article indeed.

    July 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • echo

      Unless this liberal Islam guy has a better track record than Christians of unconditionally supporting women's control over their own reproductive health, he's LYING about his religion being compatible with democracy. Till I see his mosque proudly standing up for MY rights to MY OWN BODY, I am calling BS on this entire article.

      Till then, there's no such thing as a "good religion." And the only good mosque, church, synagogue, or temple is a CLOSED one.

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

      echo: "Till I see his mosque proudly standing up for MY rights to MY OWN BODY, I am calling BS on this entire article.

      Till then, there's no such thing as a "good religion.""

      Actually echo, there are literally thousands of church congregations across America (and in Europe too) that are firmly in the pro-legal abortion camp. My own step-mom is a deaconess in a liberal PCUSA (Presbyterian) congregation in Texas.

      July 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Reality

      from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

      Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

      The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

      : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

      Added information before making your next move:

      from the CDC-2006

      "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

      And from:

      Consumer Reports, January, 2012

      "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

      Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

      "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

      Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

      The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

      – (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
      .-(Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

      Followed by:
      One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
      Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
      The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
      Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
      IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

      Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

      July 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Awesome

      @b4bigbang You're missing the real point here. One Church, or even your supposed 'thousands' of churches do not match the 'hundreds of thousands' of churches that do not support, truly, a woman's control over her body. The church as a whole, does not support it. The special interest religious zealots do not support it. The large majority of power wielding religious playmakers, do not support it. Until they stick to their religion, and decide they are not doctors, nor the women themselves, and concede an individuals right to maintain control over their own body, they are full of BS, and that's the truth of the matter.

      July 9, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  10. Reality

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

    11th century CE

    July 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  11. Noor Forum

    Reblogged this on NOOR FORUM.

    July 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  12. Abuanwar,

    Alhamdolillah, this historic, epoch-making visit of His Holiness to the USA and the bi-partisan Reception at the Capitol Hills and the unprecedented ' keynote speech' of the Islamic Caliph before the Representatives and Senators, all this has in fact, initiated the historical process of the Ahmadiyya Muslims Community to serve as a bridge between Islam and the west and this noble purpose will surely strengthen the much required world peace and international justice.InshAllah.

    July 8, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  13. psadie

    I don't care what he says. I do not trust him!

    July 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Mahid

      and your opinion is important because....

      July 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  14. shabbir

    very well written.the message is very loud and clear

    July 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  15. Bilal

    Islam Is been around 1400 years and only this century extremist made its vision look very bad.

    July 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • TR6

      I’ve got news for you. Islam started looking very bad long before this century. For example you might look up the muslim conquest of India

      July 8, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • bobby quinn

      Are you kidding?

      July 8, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  16. Bilal

    Very good in depth explanation about ahmadiya community and cleariication on jihad is very good which I believe sets Ahmadi community part from other Muslims sectors.

    July 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  17. Anwaar Sardar

    Its about time the world media start giving space and time to highlight the moderate version of Islam like that of Ahmadiyya movement in Islam. It would definitely help in creating harmony among the peoples of the world.

    July 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  18. snl4

    Well done Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Terrorism, violence and hatred is not the teaching of Islam. The fanatic group of Muslims is ruining the peaceful religion, Islam. The islam teaches or explained by clerics (Mullah) is the wrong interpretation of islam.

    July 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Get Real

      *Any* interpretation of fantasy, mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus is bunk.

      There is no verified evidence for supernatural beings, nor for their wants, needs, powers or promises.

      July 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    See prayer change things at my website, prolapsed.net.

    July 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  20. Ahmadi Muslim

    Again, great article and well written – Thanks Dan

    July 8, 2012 at 1:46 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.