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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. dj-MD

    What a shame that the Muslims of the world cannot see the wisdom in this sect. But, sadly, the Muslim community worldwide is predominately moving in a very negative direction. Hopefully their race to the past will eventually make them completely irrelevant in the world and they will disappear, but this is likely to decades if not centuries. One thing is clear: thinking people will never accept the Muslim faith, as it is currently moving (to the extreme right), so the numbers of these crazies cannot grow much more. The most troubling thing is the "moderate" Muslims are reluctant to stand up to the crazies and just remain silent. This silence assures that the radicals become the "voice of Islam."

    July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  2. Jason

    You know it's funny, I look at the comments and think maybe religion isn't the issue at all. Just a whole boat-load of ignorance from both corners in the ring.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  3. LWJR

    Muslims love America cause it has something ISLAMIC states don't have: TOLERANCE. Tolerance only thrives in a Christian culture.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • John

      Religious freedom thrives in a SECULAR culture.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Jason

      Yeah, why don't you ask Pope Urban the Second about that . . . Just sayin' . . .

      July 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Lost

      Christian culture doesn't always offer tolerance. The only reason any other culture find refuge from persecution in America is because of tolerance supported by democracy.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  4. unparalleled

    There are only are people that believe in reason, logic, evidence and facts. The word atheist just refers to one very minor specific area of their thinking – the one involving the ridiculous concept of religion and god. Referring to those people as "atheists" is like saying that a tail wags the dog.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • answer

      referring to atheists at all is pretty much a waste.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  5. agnostic

    I love you..... XOXO

    July 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Mad Sam

    Muslims (primarily Sunnis and Shiites) are the religious group most responsible for death and destruction in the world. They kill everyone that they disagree with and they ruin all countries that they infect (just look at Lebanon). The relatively small Islamic sect led by Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad is this religion's only hope for progress.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • glorydays

      How 'bout those Christians?

      July 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Mad Sam

      Reject all religions, the origin of stupidity, and look to humanity and reason for guidance.

      It is amazing that fairy tales still cause thousands or even millions of violent deaths every decade.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      ends with atheism

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mad Sam

      @glorydays: Nice try. I am an atheist, not a Christian. 🙂

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Unknown

      in the past 100 years the idea of atheism has caused around 100 million to die..all because atheist leaders went insane with power.

      Don't try to get around it atheists.History does not lie.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Mad Sam

      Well, religious believers, what proof do you have that your fake gods and angels are real?

      July 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Mad Sam

      @Unknown: Those "atheist" dictators were really killing people because of the ideologies (fascism or communism) that motivated them. Stalin's soldiers did not cry out "FOR ATHEISM" in the battlefield.

      Islamo-terrorism is motivated by a belief that the religion must dominate all of society.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • keerun

      Every religion has its extremists . Unfortunatly a few bad apples and the much negative attention from the press has given Islam a name. The hateful and ignorant comments people make is what causes all these wars and breeds all this violence. Sheer ignorance.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  7. unparalleled

    Religion only works if the children are brainwashed (brain damged) early on. It seems once the brain damage is done, it stays that way. We need to make sure the children are not exposed to the religious virus until they are adults. After that, they are more or less immune!

    July 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      ends with the post above.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Which religious or non religious group in the world spreads more hate than the worthless white supremacist confederate teapublicans trash in America?

    July 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • answer

      Muslims

      July 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  9. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

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

    July 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Lost

      Thank You. I'm grateful for people who have the courage to speak out this way. Sometimes people need a slap upside the head to help reason and rationalize, even if it has a humorous note. Too bad people can't see that some of their beliefs are the reason for ignorance.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  10. unparalleled

    Believing in God is absurd, ridiculously silly and very, very primitive. There's evidence that Neanderthal believed in God about 200,000 years ago.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Different groups of Neanderthals believed in Gods, monotheism is a relatively recent concept for the modern world.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • deeceeuci

      Like what? and where is your evidence that "things" are "changed"

      July 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • The Templeton Prayer Study

      Templeton Foundation Prayer Study:
      Results: In the two groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred
      in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those
      who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% confidence interval 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in
      59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52%
      (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% confidence
      interval 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.

      Conclusions: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from
      CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a HIGHER incidence of
      complications.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Lilith

      Heavensent us more spam, Just Sayin' LOL

      July 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  12. General Disclaimer

    More typical divide and conquer Jewish-media propaganda of the lowest order..will it ever end?!?

    July 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • answer

      when the last Muslim is ti ts up

      July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  13. zahoor shah

    May Allah protect all the human and give HIDIYAH (direction) to Ahmidis. Ameen

    July 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • the conversion

      of one of these would be best accomplished by having a good scope on a high powered police sniper rifle.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  14. 73 groups of Islam

    Propeht Muhammad (PBUH) told us that there will be 73 groups in my Ummah according to hadith's given below,

    Wahb ibn Baqiyyah told us from Khaalid from Muhammad ibn ‘Amr from Abu Salamah from Abu Hurayrah who said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The Jews were divided into seventy-one or seventy-two sects, and the Christians were divided into seventy-one or seventy-two sects, and my Ummah will be divided into seventy-three sects.” This was narrated by Abu Dawood in his Sunan, Kitaab al-Sunnah, Baab Sharh al-Sunnah
    .
    In an other narration, It was reported from Awf ibn Maalik who said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
    "The Jews were divided into seventy-one sects, one of which is in Paradise and seventy are in the Fire. The Christians were divided into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which are in the Fire and one is in Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, my Ummah will be divided into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two will be in the Fire." It was said, O Messenger of Allaah, who are they? He said, "Al-Jamaa’ah."
    Sunan Ibn Maajah, no. 3982.

    What is meant by al-Jamaa’ah is the ‘aqeedah and actions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and his Companions.

    Also few more references from quran about sects

    "Verily those who split up their religion and became sects, you have absolutely nothing to do with them." [Holy Qur'an 6:159]

    [30:32] (Do not fall in idol worship,) like those who divide their religion into sects; each party rejoicing with what they have.

    [42:14] Ironically, they broke up into sects only after the knowledge had come to them, due to jealousy and resentment among themselves. If it were not for a predetermined decision from your Lord to respite them for a definite interim, they would have been judged immediately. Indeed, the later generations who inherited the scripture are full of doubts.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  15. 2011cnn2011

    When Jesus talked about wolf in sheeps clotihing he was talking about this guy and most so-called Christians...beware, cant trust muslims and cant trust many Christians....

    July 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  16. NoTags

    @Reality, your ignorance is showing. From your post; "I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple, preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish girl named Mary."

    Joseph didn't conceive anything. Before you post, please learn the definition of "conceived", i.e.

    con·ceived – con·ceiv·ing

    transitive verb
    : to become pregnant with (young)

    intransitive verb
    : to become pregnant

    From your post, apparently Joseph became pregnant, but Mary had the child. Please provide references for your statement as you stated you would.

    July 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • .....

      all reality posts are copy paste bull sh it endlessly repeated not worth your time .

      July 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • lol

      lol you cant read

      July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • lol

      lol nobody cares about your opinion, herbie

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  17. chedar888

    Our life evolved in the brain. And the brain is where our conciousness can be found. Conciousness exist with one part good and one part evil. The only way we can attain enligtenment is to achieve the ultimate reality. To realized who we are and how we can better this world so we can leave a legacy that our fellow men can remember, No religion is better than how you cultivate yourself. Only you can better yourself and no God out there will make you good or bad.Its your consciousness

    July 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Unknown

    Atheism takes great faith not reason and logic as they claim,to deny God or any other.Without evolution and the big bang atheists wouldn't have anything to hold on to.

    Of course they have ZERO evidence to back up their claims such as "There is no God" but with that statement their target is only the Christian God and no other god or gods.

    Their excuse is "I can't prove a negative" but it just an excuse.THEY BELIEVE it without proof.Claims like that need prove and evidence to believe.Real evidence.

    They are in the same boat as everyone else but they think they are so special.

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

      There are only are people that believe in reason, logic, evidence and facts. The word atheist just refers to one very minor specific area of their thinking – the one involving the ridiculous concept of religion and god. Referring to those people as "atheists" is like saying that a tail wags the dog.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • J.Moe

      Just as believers have no proof to back their beliefs.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • deeceeuci

      what about the proof that a god exists? Proof doesn't exist either way. Each have their beliefs but there is more scientific evidence that god does not exist rather than he does.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • unparalleled

      There's only a concept (an idea) that god exists. One doesn't need any proof for non-existence of something.

      It would be idiotic to say " a one eyed monster lives in the swamp and eats little children" and demand proof that it doesn't exist.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  19. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    " ... he has “love for all, hatred for none.”
    Try telling him you are Atheist .. I'm sure his reaction would be similar to all the "loving everyone" christians who post on here.

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

      and the same when atheist posters found out someone is a Christian on here..oh the love..I mean hate

      July 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      We know there are Christian posters on here .. it's a "belief blog" Unknown lol. Atheists don't profess to love all as the will of a higher power, we give all respect until they lose it with insults. By professing to "love all and hate none" believers are simply setting themselves up to be hypocrites .. get it.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  20. Rags

    Islam: The religion of peace and love ....... and hatred, and killing, and maiming, and killing, and hatred, and maiming. Did I miss anything?

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

      You could have said "hatred, and killing, and maiming" a few more times just to be even more accurate.

      July 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Just Another Annoyed Citizen

      Yep! You missed the short bus...

      July 7, 2012 at 6:20 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.