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. Byrd

    With the possible exception of Buddhism and Taoism, all of the world's religions are responsible for conflict in this world, and Christianity in this country is absolutely no exception. Why don't you write about that for a change?

    July 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Ali

      If you have today's "Islamic terrorism" on mind, I think it's worthy to keep in mind "terrorism" isn't the result of religion but rather decades of destructive U.S. foreign policy in Muslim countries (which has spread anger to other Muslim countries, even including Thai, Chinese and Indian Muslims who are not directly effected by U.S. foreign policy in other countries).

      July 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Byrd

      No, I kinda head our own thought police, Judea-Christian terrorists in mind. It appears that it is you, Ali, who gravitate toward the stereotypical rather than I. But all religions have more than their share of blame to bear.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Ali

      I was thinking of Islam because of the article's subject matter.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • An Ahmadi Muslim

      Mr. Byrd,

      Seems like you haven't put a lot of thought in this but I have a few questions for you. What were the greatest global conflicts of the contemporary age, WW1 and WW2, do you agree? If yes, then my other questions is, were these wars fought because of religion? The most simple answer is NO! So please don't blame religion for any conflict. If you are so keen to raise objections then have the necessary rationale to support your arguments as well. Islam, Christianity or any other religion do not teach or preach violence but it is people who have always mixed dirty politics with religion to target and malign certain groups of people for socio-economic gain and power. Today's world is a very complex nexus of corporate giants and political organisations who are not concerned with people but what they GAIN out of other people's loss.

      I hope you adhere to the truth and show some honesty with your comments! Cheers mate or as they say in my religion 'PEACE BE UPON YOU'

      July 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  2. Lilith

    Gotta love the commentors who cannot imagine a universe "popping out of nowhere" but yet believe in a God who "popped out of nowhere AND had the knowledge and ability to create an entire universe from nothing".

    July 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • sherman the bedouin

      but why do you find a go between necessary?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Byrd

      ...and just look at the gargantuan mess he's made out of nothing...

      July 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Lilith

      Sherman, I don't understand your question? Did you mean "but why do THEY find a go between necessary?"

      July 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  3. Dennis

    Muslims treat everyone the same.If you preach peace and tolerance,they kill you.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  4. Scott

    Interesting that the press did not make a big deal out of him being here. I wonder if Obama bowed down?

    July 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Tim

      As opposed to religion that routinely murders, molests and discriminates without end.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      neither are Christians who are hypocrites

      July 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • d huty

      two hands working get more done than a million in prayer....

      July 7, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  6. sherman the bedouin

    ...there is a very funny and clear depiction of the many factions of Islam in a short story called The Prayer less Friday written by maummar gadaffi. the picture he paints of international politics is too bleak to be funny. he mentions these guys.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Marek Pajak

    If Islam has so much hatred for fellow Muslims because one group is the main sect and the other a different sect, how can we expect Islam to get along with people in Europe or the United States where you to live in harmony with so many different religious groups, political groups, etc? Seems like a major challenge.

    When Muslims stop hating one another, only then the violence and the extremism will be over and Islamic terrorism will be over. If you can't treat you neighbor with respect, you will never treat a foreigner in a distant country with respect.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • lol noob

      you live in harmony in the u.s lawllllllll, too much killing and hate going on and racism

      July 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • some thought

      Islam isn't the only religion to persecute against minority sects. Across history powerful sects within religions target breakaway groups with ideas that have been deemed "radical" by powerful people. Though the claim is that this Muslim group doesn't comply with one of Islam's 5 Pillars, the reality is the same as any other religious persecution in history: the powerful sect doesn't want to lose followers and therefore power. So they use government policy to enforce laws that run counter to their actual beliefs.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  8. Ali

    Mirza Ghulam Ahmed was a man from India who claimed to be Jesus. Most Muslims do not view them as Muslims because of this. To put it in perspective: a random man claims to be Jesus in the U.S. and starts his own religious movement/sect of sorts. Most Christians would think he is crazy and not consider his followers Christian.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • M.M.

      Yours, though factually accurate, is a somewhat loaded comment. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's claims stem from him being the promised reformer as predicted in the Ahadith. It states that one of the signs of the promised reformer includes two eclipses during the month of Ramadan, an event so rare that it has only happened once in history- when Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad made his claim.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • MA

      This is in fact the reply to MM.At the same time when these eclipses occured , Muhamad Ahmed Sodani in Sodan claimed to be the very promised reformer which Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Qadiani claimed.So if you say this is one of the sign of the promised reformer then Muhammad Ahmed sodani is also the promised reformer which is absurd See the link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ahmad
      And also your claim that these eclipses would happened only once since the creation of the universe is absolutely wrong.See the link : http://www.moonsighting.com/2eclipses.html

      July 9, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • MA

      To All Ahmedis:
      Mirza Ghulam Ahmed claimed to be the projection ( zill in Urdu) of The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and claimed having the colour ( Burooz in Urdu ) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that is the reason he is also called as zilli prophet and buroozi prohet.Why the Ahmedis are lying now?

      July 9, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  9. TruthBeTold

    Islam have been a part of the USA since it's founding. American Muslims are proud of their Religion and American Heritage. Islam isn't a Middle Eastern Religion, nor a South Asian one. Islam is a GLOBAL Faith just the same as Christianity. with a Population so fast differences always arise. The Taliban types have one chance to be in power and that is to feed of the Ignorance of people. They know nothing about Islam yet they hate, the Taliban types use that as "proof" of a design to kill Muslims and out of fear people seek protection.

    It's sad that in a so called Educated and developed country such as ours that ignorance is so wide-spread.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  10. 2011cnn2011

    reality check, never trust a muslim.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  11. George

    Ahmaddiyas are to Muslims what Mormons are to Christians.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • truth be told

      there are more similarities between Islam and Mormon than Mormon and Christian.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  12. Mrid

    Remember, not all Muslims are terrorist but all terrorists are Muslim.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Lber

      Actually you couldn't be more incorrect. On a lighter note, the group ELF is considered a terrorist group. Unfortunately there are radical fundamentalists in many religions and all of them can develop terrorist ideology. Its ignorance in comments like yours that keep all of us from moving forwards.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • TruthBeTold

      So many people with so much to say, but none have the sense to educate themselves.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Christian

      Then you must not have heard of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 people in Norway.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • American, Proud, and Tolerant

      Ever hear of a "little known" terrorist named Timothy McVeigh?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      some would argue, invading Iraq on false pretexts is a form of terrorism. Against the Iraqi citizens.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • deano

      Anyone remember Patty Hearst and the SLA(Symbionese Liberation Army)?

      July 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  13. Nathan Newman

    See? Theyre not ALL bad.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  14. plenty

    Islam is basically an evil religion, arabs have an inferiority complex

    July 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jerry

      How can you trust a guy that wears a rag on his head and a dress????

      July 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • john R

      i could argue the same about christians.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  15. Mike Richard

    Most Muslims are brainwashed to be haters.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Unknown

      which the hate can come from many different things..the main one what their "religious" leader tells them.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  16. Islam is Disgusting

    Muhammad may be directly quoted explicitly, and in appropriate context, many times instructing all muslims to kill all non-believers, tolerate but make no friend of Jew or Christian and that the "dark-eyed" beauties are the prettiest.

    This whole religion must go extinct.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Maya

      The Bible commands its followers to kill their disobedient children. I don't see how Islam is worse.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • The Ultimate Avenger

      Let me guess: Your solution involves sending one billion people to gas chambers and crematoriums.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Corrections

      Some enlightening words from bible

      "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'

      July 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Olu Raji

      Such ignorance. Please show these quotes where Mohammed was quoted as instructing muslims to kill christains. Just so you know many verses in the Quran lump muslims and Jews and Christains into the same group ("People of the book"). The Qur'an talk about making a point to accept the Injil (which is the gospel). Its ridiculous ignorant statements like yours that never gives a platform for discussion.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jason

      Hello?? Ever read the Old Testament?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  17. Bazoing

    Islam demands they establish Islamic government. If you do not want that minimize Islamic immigration. We should stay out of their countries and they should stay out of ours. End of story.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Ben

      I couldn't agree more...thanks

      July 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  18. William

    Ahmediya muslims want to live peacefully. Peace is not acceptable to the Sunni moslems. So, they kill Ahmediya. In Pakistan, Ahmediya are persecuted.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • MA

      All Muslims whether sunnis and shias want to live more peacefully than anyone else.You kill your neighbour when he cries , you say to him " Don't cry you are disturbing the peace ".Everybody is blaming the neighbour to disturb the serenity and peace of the neighbourhood and appreciating and praising the killer to stand up for peace.What a shame for the honesty of most of today's humans.Peace only comes through justice

      July 9, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  19. david rice

    Muslims want to kill us!

    July 7, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • brown

      Muslims are going to kill you. Patience, your time will come.

      -Allah Akbar

      July 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Rags

      You're still alive aren't you?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • MA

      All Muslims whether sunnis and shias want to live more peacefully than anyone else.You kill your neighbour when he cries , you say to him " Don't cry you are disturbing the peace ".Everybody is blaming the neighbour to disturb the serenity and peace of the neighbourhood and appreciating and praising the killer to stand up for peace.What a shame for the honesty of most of today's humans.Peace only comes through justice.

      July 9, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  20. disgustedvet

    All faiths have their good people .All faiths have the crackpots and haters. Even the Atheist faith has both good and bad .

    July 7, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Mike

      Amen Brother....

      July 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • stormchaser1983

      atheism is not a faith. it is a lack thereof, and by nature, should provide valuable introspection to people of faith about everything in existence and best path forward. however, i agree, there are crackpots who are atheists, thereby sullying the message, by waging a war on good people of faith.
      however, for america's well being, muslims in USA should assimilate and revolt against the extremist Islamic terrorists.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • brian

      atheist faith...?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Bazoing

      To stormchaser1983: Atheism is a religion (a faith) in which all the complicated universe happened by chance alone. That takes a lot of faith.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Just by claiming Atheism as a faith is an intentional insult to Atheists .. and you know you did it intentionally. So that would qualify you as one of your faith's haters .. congrats!

      July 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • gager

      Bazoing, Not knowing how the universe started does not mean we have faith. That's ridiculous. Atheism is a lack of belief in magic which requires faith. If an atheist has faith it is not in how the universe began.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Maya

      @ Bazoing – No, what takes faith is to believe that some invisible creator who popped out of nowhere is running the show and micromanaging every part of the universe. Answer me this: if it is impossible for the universe to have come about without a creator, then why is it possible that God came about without a creator? By claiming that God exists, you are admitting that it is possible for a being to come into being without being created. Your beliefs are illogical.

      Atheists don't claim to know the mechanism by which our universe came into being. Anyone who does make such a claim is incredibly arrogant.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      To bazoing .. Not one point in your post is true, correct or even makes sense to those who choose to know better. If it makes you feel better thinking that no one can be without a "faith" as you see it, then go ahead but it still doesn't make you correct.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • HEM

      Atheism is a faith!?!?
      Like, NOT smoking is a habit?
      Or, NOT collecting stamps is a hobby?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • TruthBeTold

      If Atheist aren't a faith, then why are you so Militant and aggressive in trying to shove your views onto others? You have no beliefs (you claim) yet you attack others regularly trying to prove your point.

      IF you have no Faith, then you should live and let live. Go on with your lives and let those that believe in God or the Tooth Fairy or the CUBS, believe what they believe. its called FREEDOM.

      Atheist = Terrorists lol

      July 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      TruthBeTold ... So you're basically saying that having Faith is the reason you are militant and try to shove your views onto others. Read what you wrote .. you're actually insulting people of faith .. I just think you hit the nail on the head and are correct LOL
      Not believing what followers believe doesn't in any way mean we need to sit back and let you shove your belief's at us in every little way you can. Speaking up is NOT a faith/belief.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:53 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.