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. reasonable sane person with a non-trailer park education

    "Christianity doesn't blow shlt up. Fuc Muslims, and fuc you."


    Looks like you are wrong, live in a trailer park, and have no education.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      What a weak-di-cked analogy. What next, an abortion clinic bombing?

      You're trying to analogize a micro-sociological outliers to generalize a macro-cultural group.

      Nice try. Now fuc off.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  2. Gregory L. Faith

    Come on over. convert us all. I won't mind...Better CNN?

    July 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  3. reasonable sane person with a non-trailer park education

    "Since when are the PC libs so gaga over religous fundamentalist's? Even if they are not terrorist prone, the last thing this country needs are a bunch of religous fundamentalist's who whip out rugs and pray 5 times a day. Bible bangers are bad enough."
    chuckmartel you are really stupid. Please read an article before you post. The leader even said hes anti-funamentalist.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Gregory L. Faith

      Talk about non productivity....I thought watching CNN during business hours was wrong...OK CNN censor that!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  4. Lupus the Great

    In the (rear) end, God will win! God resides in the black hole!

    July 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  5. John Geheran

    Probably the most persecuted sect within Islam. But when push comes to shove they are Muslim and should be viewed thru that lens.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  6. Jensen

    Islam in it's many forms and shades are hate propagating and fear mongering way of life. Any humans associated with this life will only create hate for others. Must be banned in the West.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Must be banned everywhere. Remember, it's global economy now.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • reasonable sane person with a non-trailer park education

      "Islam in it's many forms and shades are hate propagating and fear mongering way of life. Any humans associated with this life will only create hate for others. Must be banned in the West."

      Leave america and move back to the soviet union please. Your kind are not welcome here.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Putin loves Muslims. Hell, he'll even pay their way to Russia, give them free groceries, build new mosques, and give them some free C-4 to thin the ranks of the bourgeois who are rioting against him.

      Право Таким образом, Ахмед!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  7. TG

    Just as the churches of Christendom are divided among over 41,000 different denominations of almost 2.3 billion people, so are the Muslims divided, fighting among themselves as the have the religious denominations of Christendom. Neither the Muslims with their Koran nor the churches of Christendom with their Bibles have taught who really is God. These have both kept him nameless, the Muslims with Allah which means "The God", which is a contraction of two Arabic words, Al-Ilah and the churches as "Lord" or "God".

    When an angel revealed himself to Moses at Mount Horeb (southern Saudi Arabia) concerning the offspring of Israel or Jacob in Egypt, he told Moses: "This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, ‘Jehovah the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name to time indefinite, and this is the memorial of me to generation after generation."(Ex 3:15) Thus, God's personal name is Jehovah.

    And just as the churches of Christendom have mixed in with the political arena, so likewise have Muslims. Jesus, on the other hand, said that his genuine disciples were "no part of the world"(John 15:19), with Jesus telling Pilate that his "kingdom" was "no part of the world."(John 18:36)

    Jesus taught his disciples that his Father, Jehovah God, is the "only true God"(John 17:3) and that by means of the "kingdom" or heavenly government that was "set up" by Jehovah, genuine peace will soon be dominating the earth.(Matt 6:9, 10; Ps 37:11, 29)

    July 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Christianity doesn't blow shlt up. Fuc Muslims, and fuc you.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • hez316

      I believe Jesus also called us to be light and salt the world. Hard to do if we completely separate from it.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      When are you people going to get it, that just because the editors of the gospels "place a statement in the mouth" of someone, does not mean they actually said it. The gospels are proclamational faith docu'ments, not history. What did you *think* they were going to say ? The gospels were written decades later, by people who never met Jesus. They are unreliable. Get over it.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Gregory L. Faith

      They are BOOKS written by MAN!! GET A CLUE!!! God in in the head of a buch of men that drank beer all those centuries ago!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      And BTW, Jehovah, was not the same god as Yahweh. Jehovah was a mountain god.
      Yahweh was the god of the armies.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq


      July 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  8. guest

    View Muslim Brotherhood in America on youtube or read Cruel and Usual Punishment by Nonie Darwish to understand the real nature of Islam and what Sharia law means.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  9. hom

    So these are saudi wahhabists? No? Is your education of the trailer park variety? Yes

    July 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Are you a propagandist ass hole? Yes.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  10. David Silverstine

    lol these people arent even part of Islam look what muslims believe only one god and muhamed is prophet just like jesus not ahmadis believe like christians that jesus is son of god so ahmadis r christians hello !!!!!

    July 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      You're just another self-loathing Jew-hater. Bet you're grand-daddy worked for the SS.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  11. unparalleled

    The U.S. government is constantly waging the war on drugs at a cost of billions of dollars, yet supports religion which is nothing but "hallucinogenic" drug. Isn't that crazy?

    July 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Scary

    Read the Koran and decide for yourself its merits versus its dangers. I have and believe it's a dangerous cult. Any group that aspires to either convert you or kill you if you don't convert is dangerous and cultish. How about you 'ready' - are you?

    July 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • unparalleled

      Alll religions, cults and other dogma (such as Nazism, Communism etc.) has one thing in common – they are all nonsense.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • hez316

      Humanism too?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Especially humanism. Are you kidding me?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  13. hom

    Greg did you not read the article? They are pro American and pro west.....

    July 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  14. dscon

    the koran says thow shall not kill too, right?

    July 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Ed

      It does not,

      July 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      Kill, kill, kill, respect Muslims, take money from kuffar, kill them if they don't pay, kill, kill, kill, don't eat pork, kill Christians, Kill Jews, kill, kill, kill, kill, disfigure women, use children for fuc dolls, kill apostates, pray 5 times a day, kill, kill, kill.

      You get the idea.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  15. Ali

    So the days are nigh everyone shall HEAR him...

    July 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  16. Greg

    Islam at it's core is hatred for the infidel.........while all muslims are not violent, the core of the "religion" is to rule the world through slowly taking over cultures......proof is in the pudding......Just look at France and Great Britain......

    July 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Ali

      But you may enlarge your knowledge of the Ahmadiyya... http://www.alislam.org

      July 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  17. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If ....

    This is a great video.


    July 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • dscon

      yeah...........cnn moderators have our backs on this.............

      July 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • John

      This is a great video. 🙂

      July 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      I've got a video of your girlfriend and me. Now that's a great video.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • dscon

      here's a test fot the moderators.......
      i will cut and paste this for my ongoing records.

      this preceding video from "your religion"...etc"
      is a video of our president mounting the average joe!

      July 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  18. chuckmartel

    Since when are the PC libs so gaga over religous fundamentalist's? Even if they are not terrorist prone, the last thing this country needs are a bunch of religous fundamentalist's who whip out rugs and pray 5 times a day. Bible bangers are bad enough.

    July 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Dan

      Because they have found a new "tolerant" version of Muslims that they can foist on the public as "proof" that Muslims are just like the rest of us. It's the same game they play with the two truly monogamous gay couples that hey found.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Friedrich Nietzsche

      There's actually two? No shlt. Sure they're not the same couple using different names?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  19. ready

    lol lots of bigots here

    July 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • dscon

      most racists stay away from bigotry?

      July 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  20. Greg

    Islam of any colour is dangerous......and a cult

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

      as opposed to what you are greg? Explain don't just make arbitrary delusional accusations.

      July 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • yannaes

      Easy explanation, dude...911. live with that, dude!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Nii

      Thats so not true! In Ghana the schools of Sunni Islam which existed before Wahabbism of the Saudis were are very peaceful! Wahabbism is actually stirring up the trouble. Ahmadis I know are very loving and honest! Religious persuasion is not the problem lack of emotional maturity is!

      July 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
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About this blog

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