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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. SOMI

    ...The United States still sucks in other News

    July 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  2. TheMendicantBias

    This is very interesting. Could these people be the answer to the problems the world faces from Muslims? They seem to live what they preach after a little bit of research on them through some Google searches.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Mahid

      yes we could my freind – its for all of us to unite regardless of race , faith colour and promote good and acknolwedge that we may be questioned about our doings in this life ' love for all hatred for none' that is the ahmadi way – i tell you what why not watch our peace symposium 2012 on youtube to understand what were truly about http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIMS0ne-F84 or visit alislam.org to understand our ethos which seeks to unite all mankind

      July 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  3. dscon

    religion sucks.....................
    the 10 commandments clearly defines the only difference.
    liberal confusion will perpetuate this non reporting of the true difference
    between the two.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  4. bob

    whine, whine, whine. their is no god, only a unifying force in the universe. to physicists it's the "god particle" to christians "god" and to the Mayans human sacrifice. get a grip on reality and face ourselves, i say.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  5. Uniwalker

    Ahmadiyya are not muslims, and that is why this man is treated better in Washington. You can not confuse us any more.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • TheMendicantBias

      You sound like the extremists they're talking about in the article. lol

      July 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Supra

    An analogy to Ahmaddiya in Christianity would be if a group of Christians claim that Christ has returned and is the head of their church/religion.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Dan

      An even better analogy would be a Christian claiming to be the prophetic fulfillment of the Muslim Mahdi.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Mahid

      is that idea any more comical than jesuses return upon earth via a flaming sword and fighting an evil monster? or an atheist who is adamant there is no God despite having no evidence to disprove his existence and disagreeing with thousands of years of people who were religious in 1 way or another...

      July 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  7. I love cults

    Then again its not like mainstream Islam is a real *religion* to begin with. kinda reminds me of Romney and his cult gang bangers in Utah. That's probably just me.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Pey

      "Real' like what? Like mainstream Christianity that eats the flesh and blood of its founder every Sunday and dunks the head of their newborn child in water to save him? Oh you mean that kind of real religion.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • pluckey

      ... and believes a virgin teenager in the desert had a baby... and believes someone that was dead woke up 3 days after he died and rose into the sky without the help of a hot-air balloon...

      July 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Greg

      #1....baptism doesn't save....

      #2.....The bread and the cup only symbolize the sacrifice of Christ

      You really should actually get to know christianity before you speak out.....lol

      July 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • pluckey

      Greg,
      At least in the Roman Catholic church, the wine and the wafer are ACTUALLY thought to be the blood and body of christ.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  8. Lilith

    @ digitaltrauma
    I'm still waiting for a reason to believe in your Gods.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. I love cults

    Sounds like a cult to me. Anyone that claims their leader is related to Jesus Christ is always the first major red flag. The other is if your cult starts with the letter S and your star power is the crackpot that jumps on sofas. Let save that for another day.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      An even bigger cult is one that doesn't "claim" to be related to Jesus Christ but actually the one where Jesus Christ claims to be the son of God(s) ... now THERE'S a cult for you!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  10. ArthurP
    July 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  11. John

    I like dudes. Any hot guys out there?

    July 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Bill

      Aren't there websites for that sort of thing? CNN is not one.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • John

      Looks like there is more than one John out there. Haha. Good luck man. CNN is not the right website for what you are looking for.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • steve

      Can you say Anderson Cooper and Dom Lemon?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  12. Maloof

    What they say and what they do behing our backs dont jive

    July 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  13. Will

    Any religion that supports tolerance and rejects violence and hatred is welcome in the US.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • John

      If only such a religion existed. 😦

      July 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • bob

      we have enough trouble with religion in this country already. muslims were bred in the middle and far east under totally different socioeconomic and geographic conditions. they should stay there, and figure out their differences between each other. the less we have to do with them, the better. blah-blah-blah, why doesn't the press shut the he.. up and concentrate on the problems we have in our borders.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • pluckey

      That's impossible because any religion that is tolerant by definition can't proselytize, and therefore would die out.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • fritz

      I never heard of these guys until now! How come? I think they've been living among us and remaining silent while the crazy muslims attack us! Are they afraid? Or are they in secret approval when muslim terrorists kill us? How are we to know? If they love America so much they why haven't they spoken up in defense of their chosen country? Where is their indignant ire for the muslim terrorists that slaughter countless civilians worldwide? If you pride yourselves as Americans, then stop being invisible and start talking!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  14. Hamburger Head

    Is Allah against wearing deodorant? That would explain a lot.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • John

      Your alias explains alot.

      July 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  15. godisimaginary.com

    http://godisimaginary.com/i7.htm

    Your religious delusion broken down.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  16. Elisa

    A lot of athletes are Muslim too.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Dan

      As are many prisoners. What's your point?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  17. godisimaginary.com

    http://www.godisimaginary.com

    God in any form is a myth.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  18. unparalleled

    We need to start viewing all religions for what they are – delusional insanity.

    July 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If ...

    This is a great video:

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

    July 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • John

      This is terrific!

      July 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  20. justice786

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QFFsHGXcUI&w=640&h=360]

    July 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Dan

      Exposed? OR publicly disagreed with?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.