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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. amarjeet

    Ahmadiyya Muslim is certainly peaceful & non extremists in behavior, civilicity, culture & modernity than Sunni & Shia. In India Shia & Sunni do not allow ever burial of Ahmadiyya Muslim in their Burial Ground. Reasons behind are not very clear in history or tradition as to why Ahmadiyya Muslim are so different, more docile, diligent, non-extremists and nonviolent as a community. Ahmadiyya Muslim are always target of Islamic extremists which I conclude are handiwork of Sunni & Shia Mullahs who are main trouble monger & inciting Muslims into annihilation of other religions in the entire world. It is time now to have special R & D group to study the reasons behind being so civilized & total distinction of Ahmadiyya Muslim from other Muslims. Ahmadiyya Muslim deserves more encouragement & initiative for global help to spread their gospel to other Muslims.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    No religious or non religious group in the world divides and spreads more hatered and racism than white supremacist confederate teapublicans in America! They fought a civil war to undermine our democracy, they enslave a peopleand now they're still conspiring to return America to the Jim Crow era of the 1950's!Worthless rightwing pigs!

    July 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  3. Amir Amir

    Ahmadiyya are to other Muslims as Mormons are to other Christians. Some vehemently deny they are Muslims, some think they are a cult, some begrudgingly accept them but totally disagree with their views. They believe the Second Coming already happened, which is even more out-there than Mormon's believing that their book fall from the sky and that random guy found it...

    July 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • unparalleled

      All religions, sects or cults have one thing in common – they are all nonsense.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Rafik

      The Ahmadis have changed their tunes. Their founded did not claim he was the metaphorical Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He himself said that he became the Virgin Mary, menstruated, then gave birth to Christ, and then discovered that he was Christ himself. He also later claimed that he was God. The only reason Ahmadis exist is because of protection from the Colonial British Empire since one of Ahmadiyya's original tenets was that they should be friendly towards the British government and protect it though the British were the occupiers of India at that time. It is unfortunate that our country has chosen to give a voice to these charlatans.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  4. unparalleled

    Think about religion as a drug addiction. Instead of "mind altering chemicals", people are getting "mind altering illusions". Same thing. People love their addictions that free them from otherwise more than mediocre lives!

    July 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • godisimaginary.com

      I like pot. Religion is such a downer.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • herbie, get a life.

      .
      .
      .

      July 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  5. unparalleled

    These religious fraudsters should be ignored as serious jokes. People need to grow up and stop giving in to religious hallucinations. You can't hide from reality, regardless of what illusory nonsense you believe. Reality happens! To accept religion as something of value or deserving of any respect is to condone stupidity. It's like giving credence to someone who claims that the Earth is flat.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Mahid

      hi im an atheist and im going to make a point of it lol get over it mate – the majority of the world assumes religion and the probability of a God existing to be true – you have no factual evidence to prove his existence no factual evidence to prove religions throughout time have been phoney... you just know how to make many claims – good work

      July 10, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  6. unparalleled

    Atheism is like tasting freedom after being a slave. You just can't ever go back to some imbecility.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      The freedom to be a good, moral and ethical person without the threat of eternal punishment or reward IS true FREEDOM!!

      July 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • enlightened

      u r absolutely right. there is another way to put it, a mind once opened never closes..

      July 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  7. Friedrich Nietzsche

    God is dead, therefore man is free. (Man is free, therefore we have such BS)

    July 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Now someone please pass me the opium pipe.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm0qGT2TML8&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Let's get rid of the encryption. That's better.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODuKN_9zhIc&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODuKN_9zhIc&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  11. unparalleled

    The U.S. brought it upon themselves for condoning religion, when it should firmly stand to reject all religions, period. Religions are nothing but fraudulent delusions. The U.S government has a reasonable duty to protect its citizens from fraud!

    July 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Chuck

      To ignore the importance of Christianity and religion in creating this country, you really miss the picture. This would not be the country it is if it didnt have its freedoms.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • unparalleled

      Absolutely ridiculous. It's like saying you can't be free unless you are also stupid. Religion is stupidity.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • jrargueta

      It's not religion that causes violence. There are hateful violent religious people (among Muslims as well as Christians and Jewish) but there are also hateful violent non-religious people. On the other hand, there are loving, peaceful people among religious people (including Muslims, Christians and Jews) as well as non-religious people. So, advocating for the elimination/ban of religion has the same roots as does advocating for the imposition of religion. It's a believe that you are the sole owner of truth; that you are super-smart but the others are stupid. It's the unwillingness or inability of a person to see and understand other people's views. It's intolerance. But one thing is for sure: we need to be tolerant of others, including you. Peace and Love!

      July 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  12. unparalleled

    There's no god. It's not a belief, it's an inevitable, rational conclusion. It's just as strong a conclusion as saying that the earth is round, gravity acts down, the earth revolves around the sun, and the earth is billions of years old. If one claims otherwise, he's an uneducated fool.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Unknown

      Its a belief and a religion.You need proof but you have none just like the rest of humanity.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • unparalleled

      You are a bit confused – definition of religon:A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Unknown

      Atheism-YOU are the god.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Chuck

      You sound like a Preacher

      July 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Unknown ... it's not about proof .. it's about probability. The existence of a God(s) is infinitely improbable while no God(s) is overwhelmingly likely. Belief in Deities is not on an equal footing with Atheism.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Unknown

      Easy way out..How pathetic and not even logical.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • godisimaginary.com

      Unknown lacks the brainpower to understand the definition of logic

      July 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Unknown .. I didn't think you would be able to understand it lol. And I don't think you understand what the word logical means either. BTW .. the easy way out is to simply believe what the people around you believe rather than thinking for yourself .. that's why they are called "followers".

      July 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • jrargueta

      How do you know there is no god? What is rationale?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes otherwise rational people into believing in imaginary friends. 😦

      July 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • The Templeton Prayer Study

      Temleton Foundation Prayer Study .. Short version:
      Conclusion:
      Intercessory prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery.
      But certainty of receiving intercessory prayer had a HIGHER incidence of complications (59%).

      There's some of your proof and from a religious foundation to boot LOL!!

      July 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    Great video:

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

    July 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  15. southernwonder

    nazism wasn't as clever as islam is to escape annihilation and receive american aid.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      you mean American military aid.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  16. louise

    misogynistic 'religion' where are the women ..in the back???

    July 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  17. nolimits3333

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • stupid followed to its logical conclusion

      makes statements like that. God gave science to mankind and Islam is a cult not a religion.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Unknown

      Science built the first atomic bomb.Science dropped them on innocent people behind "enemy lines".Science built nuclear weapons which have the power to destroy the entire planet.Science and knowledge not religion creates that.

      Weak argument man.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Unknown .. and the President who ordered the bomb dropped, prayed before making that decision ... science did not drop the bomb .. a religious man did.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • herbie, get a life.

      ....
      .
      .

      July 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Science wastes money flying around the moon.
      Religion wastes money feeding the poor and the hungry left behind by Science.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  18. Jay in Florida

    Great, so now we are taking sides endorsing some of their factions, in their Millennial wars? what a great idea!!!

    July 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  19. Puzzled in Peoria

    Apparently many atheists are equal opportunity haters. Mr. Ahmad expresses only love, as Jesus of Nazareth did, and that seems sufficient reason for many to ridicule him.

    If atheism is the philosophy of the intellectually superior, why the hate? Would you behave as the Nazis did? Do you find that admirable? Is hate intellectually superior?

    I don't hate you. Do you hate Christians? Do you hate this sect of Muslims? If you do, you need to ask yourself WHY you feel threatened by us.

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

      your statements are false; your conclusions ludicrous.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Unknown

      Many atheists won't understand this.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Unknown ... your comment is a statement of hate. Can you understand that?

      July 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  20. unparalleled

    Religion must be, and should be called what it is – fraud. And dealt with it accordingly. To accept religion as something of value or deserving of any respect is to condone stupidity. It's like giving credence to someone who claims that the Earth is flat.

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

      atheism should be called for what it is-a scam.

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

      One can't change the mindset of religious cretins. It's literally trying to make mentally sick people into normal ones. It's very, very difficult! We have to start with educating our children to make sure they know the difference between reality and religious nonsense.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • un_perpendicular

      There are some who need guidance in life in order to live it to the fullest... I believe that religion provides that guidance for a great number of people.

      For other people, science and reason of right and wrong provide that guidance...

      In the end, there is no magical button to push to make everyone think, look, and act the same way... How we each deal with the world diversity (and challenges that come along with it) is our own choice... Hopefully its not a violent or naive solution...

      July 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Kristi

      This is very sad! We life in a nation of FREEDOM. If you think religion of any kind is wrong, you have a right to your opinion, and those who have a faith have a right to theirs. A 'scam' is a trick done for the benefit of the tricker–that is not what most religions are at their core. Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, Hindu, Jainism, etc... these are based on ancient wisdoms and events that occured long ago. How is that a scam? Admittedly, scams exist amongst religious people and religious people are scammed, but so are people that want to lose weight or get a college education.

      It's easy to say "all religions are wrong" when you look at them as alternative explanations of scientific principles. That is NOT what they are! Religion is about explaining the unexplainable–about exploring morality, mortality, and the human condition. Can science do any of that? No, and it's not supposed to! 'Moral Code' and philosophy are much more complex that you're making it.

      At the end of the day, don't discount someone as 'mentally sick' for believing something you do not. There's a lot of physicists and mathematicians that, looking at the same data, come to very different conclusions about the universe. Does that make them dumb? No, it makes them intellectually honest. Having a religious conviction is no different.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:30 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.