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US-bound Ahmadi leader models a different kind of Islamic caliphate

Ahmadi Muslim men participate in the initiation ceremony, forming a continuous link to the caliph, left center, at the Jalsa Salana in Alton, England, on Aug. 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

(RNS) — As some 38,000 Ahmadi Muslims from more than 110 countries gathered in the countryside outside London this past August for the fast-growing denomination’s annual convention, thousands of Ahmadis camped out in tents less than a mile from a small house.

For the three days of the convention, or Jalsa, the modest building on Oakland Farm in Hampshire was the home of Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Ahmadis’ spiritual leader, or caliph. In their nearby tent village, his followers gather to pray behind him and hear him speak on everything from women’s rights to achieving world peace.

“He might be the most accessible world religious figure,” said Imam Abdun Nur Baten, an Ahmadi missionary serving in Paraguay who attended the Jalsa in the first week of August. “He always keeps the door open. There is distance for logistical and security reasons, but you can visit him, get personal responses to your letters or find him praying in the mosque.”

Similar scenes may be repeated this month in the U.S., as the caliph will make his fourth visit to the United States’ estimated 20,000-strong Ahmadiyya community. Masroor Ahmad, whose last U.S. visit was in 2013, will make appearances beginning Oct. 15 in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas. There, he will inaugurate four mosques and meet with members of his community, leading children’s classes and delivering a keynote address on justice and world peace in Baltimore.

To Ahmadi Muslims, the term “caliph” comes without the dark connotations it has gained in the media, thanks to the Islamic State group and its vow to violently establish a worldwide caliphate. But Masroor Ahmad is no Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.

Instead, in the 15 years of his caliphate, Masroor Ahmad, 68, has focused his followers on self-reformation and anti-extremism, warning that society is moving rapidly toward a dangerous fate due to its increasing injustice and immorality. 

“During these days it is essential that we remain focused on prayer, as all of our success is based upon prayer,” he told the crowd at the Jalsa. “Our tasks and our mission can only be fulfilled through the grace of God alone.”

That mission is nothing political.

“For us, under the caliph, a victory doesn’t mean defeating or killing other people,” Nasim Rehmatullah, an Ohio-based doctor who is vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s U.S. branch, told Religion News Service. “It means bringing them to our side.”

If Masroor Ahmad’s personable leadership style makes him an uncommonly accessible religious figure, his message has made him one of the most successful as well. The denomination has seen tremendous growth, adding more than half a million members this year to a worldwide body that already numbered between 10 million and 20 million.  

Masroor Ahmad delivers his message from one of Europe’s largest mosques, Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, U.K., in sermons every Friday. He has also written several books and has spoken to members of Congress and the Parliaments of Britain and Canada.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Along with their adherence to a caliph, Ahmadis’ beliefs set them apart from other Muslims. Most Muslims consider Muhammad the final prophet, and say the caliphate, or Muslim state, that began after his death (and continued through several sometimes disputed lines of succession from his closest companions to various Islamic emperors) ended in the early 20th century.

Ahmadis agree that Muhammad was the final law-bearing prophet. But they believe their denomination’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in 1835 in Qadian, India, was a subordinate prophet to Muhammad – a reformer who brought no new scripture. Many non-Ahmadi Muslim leaders see him as a false prophet and have branded Ahmadis heretics.

That has invited persecution, much of it violent. Ghulam Ahmad, a self-taught prolific writer and debater in favor of Islam, quickly gained followers in the Indian subcontinent when he claimed to be Islam’s promised messiah and reformer. But many local Islamic scholars did not take kindly to his claim, labeling him an apostate and calling for his murder.

After Ghulam Ahmad’s death in 1908 from natural causes, his followers believe that the caliphate was re-established.

The persecution ramped up as the community grew. In Indonesia in 2011, hundreds of Muslims wielding machetes, sticks and stones attacked an Ahmadi home, killing three men and maiming several others. In Algeria, more than 250 Ahmadis — 10 percent of the country’s Ahmadi population — have faced religion-related charges since 2016.

An Ahmadi shopkeeper in Scotland was stabbed to death in 2016, decades after zealots in Pakistan burned down his father’s pharmacy and hospital, forcing his family to flee to the U.K.

In Pakistan, where most Ahmadis are concentrated, the state has made it illegal for them to call themselves Muslim. Ahmadis are legally forbidden to use the traditional Islamic greeting of “Assalamu alaikum” (peace be upon you), to call their place of a worship a mosque or to congregate for the annual Jalsa. In the city of Gujranwala in 2014, a mob set an Ahmadi family’s home ablaze, killing one woman and two young children and causing a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage. In 2010, almost 100 Ahmadis were killed during attacks on two mosques in Lahore.

“There is no doubt that the Ahmadiyya community faces physical, social and legal threats in many countries where they reside,” Johnnie Moore, an evangelical Christian pastor and a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told Ahmadis in a speech at the Jalsa this year. In Pakistan, “the rights of the Ahmadiyya community are consistently violated” due to extreme blasphemy laws, he noted.

But Masroor Ahmad forbids any sort of violent retaliation.

Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth and current caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, speaks to his followers at the Jalsa Salana on Aug. 4, 2018, in Alton, England. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

When believers fully incline themselves toward God, he said in his opening Jalsa speech, “then no politicians can hurt us, nor can any so-called Islamic scholars, nor can government officers … who are trying to making it harder for us to live in this earth.”

Born in 1950 in Rabwah, Pakistan, Masroor Ahmad studied agricultural economics at the Agriculture University in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He soon moved to Ghana, where he led social and agricultural development projects, and is credited with successfully cultivating wheat for the first time in the West African country’s difficult climate.

In 1985, he returned to Pakistan to serve the Ahmadiyya community in various senior administrative positions. He was briefly imprisoned for allegedly erasing words of the Quran from a sign, charges Ahmadis say are false and part of wider persecution against the denomination. In 2003, he was elected to succeed his uncle, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, as the community’s caliph.

Since then, Masroor Ahmad has launched a slew of public campaigns against extremism, an annual national peace symposium and an international peace award. He expanded the community’s disaster relief nonprofit Humanity First and oversees the building of free schools and hospitals around the world.

The Jalsa Salana site in Alton, England, hosted roughly 38,000 attendees in August 2018. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

His focus on achieving world peace has drawn comparisons to Pope Francis. But Sarah Khan, a primary school teacher in Kingston, England, who attended the Jalsa, considers that a flawed analogy. “The history of the papacy is concerned with power, wealth and land,” she told RNS. “But we see how humbly he lives. He takes no opportunity to aggrandize himself. He doesn’t want to meet his own ends; he wants to improve society as a whole.”

The climax of the Jalsa is the baiat ceremony, when Ahmadis form a human chain to take an oath of allegiance to their caliph. Dozens of new Ahmadis sit in a semicircle directly touching Masroor Ahmad, tears glinting on their faces.

He stretches his hand out to them and they repeat the pledges that initiate them within the Ahmadiyya denomination: “I enter this day the Ahmadiyya Jamaat (Community) in Islam at the hand of Masroor … ”

Around the world, millions of Ahmadis repeat the words as they watch the scene on MTA, the denomination’s 24-hour TV channel.

Ahmadi Muslim men participate in the initiation ceremony, forming a continuous link to the caliph, at the Jalsa Salana in Alton, England, on Aug. 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Despite the community’s growth, many Jalsa attendees said, Ahmadis still share a deeply personal connection to the caliph. At The London Mosque, Masroor Ahmad’s followers wait in the rain, in lines wrapping around the block, hoping to pray as close behind him as possible. They even prostrate in the wet grass outside the mosque, where they might catch a glimpse of the caliph’s white turban as he returns to his office.

“Once you get hooked on the caliph, you’re totally changed,” said Rehmatullah, who hasn’t missed a single Jalsa since the international convention began in 1984. “I see the difference.”

About the author

Aysha Khan

Aysha Khan is a Boston-based journalist reporting on American Muslims and millennial faith for RNS. Her newsletter, Creeping Sharia, curates news coverage of Muslim communities in the U.S. Previously, she was the social media editor at RNS.

18 Comments

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  • The road to peace starts with the banning of the Koran and all other “I am better than you” foundation books e.g. the OT and NT.

  • I can’t help but think how the Khalifa is coming at a very interesting time in US news. I hope the press hearkens to His Holiness to get his views on all the crises we’re facing. It would certainly be a breath of fresh air.

  • Lol. So… the road to peace starts with an “I am better than you” person banning religious texts that are revered by millions instead of discussing them? Good luck with that… I would say the better approach would be to remove the misunderstandings in those texts that have led to the “I am better than you” belief… and that is exactly what Ahmadiyyat has done for the Holy Quran and other religious texts. Please do the research then form your opinion.

  • “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world
    owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast
    majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in
    Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in
    India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions
    of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and
    social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the
    people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and
    Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these
    lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.)
    https://www.theosophical.or

    · https://www.theosophical.org/component/content/article/42-quest-magazine/1354-from-exclusivism-to-convergence-part-2

    i.e. The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when.”

    It is disturbing that religious hatred continues unabated due to
    radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the
    first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the
    stupidity of it all.

  • So it seems like you are saying because religious communities have adherents that reflect the areas they were established in it is proof of their falsehood?? In all of human history it was only in the last couple thousand years that we’ve been able to freely mix with one another. Obviously the ways we interpret our purpose based on our different circumstances will conflict with one another until a common understanding is found that meets the needs of everyone regardless of genetics, culture and social standing. If a religion is able to identify that balance and attract everyone towards it then that is all the proof that is needed that it is true in its claims. At this point it seems no philosophy, religious or otherwise, is able to find that balance and establish peace between all segments of human society.
    I believe the advancements that came out of the Islamic world in its early years were divinely guided and that guidance allowed Muhammad and his followers to find that balance and that same balance is now being established through the Renaissance of True Islam under Ahmadiyyat. That is my claim. Now your job is to research Ahmadiyyat in all 200+ countries with its millions of followers from all ethnic backgrounds and tell me that it is not a shining beacon of goodwill towards humankind and sincere God consciousness in our world today. If there is any proof that belief in God can bring mankind together, this is it. If you have a better example of another philosophy, religious or otherwise, having the same effect consistently for generations I’d love to hear about it.

  • All vitiated by the fact that the angel Gabriel is a myth and the major con of all Muslim sects.

  • In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
    MESSAGE OF PEACE FOR ALL PEOPLES.
    [email protected]

    Peace be on you,

    This Message to you is by the command of your Creator, of which He send me; Rasheedat as a Warner; that you seek His forgiveness for wrongdoings and follow His Guidance in the Qur’an alone.
    A Similitude of those who believe in Prophet Muhammad of Arabia and follow the teachings of the Book of hadiths is like those who believe in Jesus in the Bible; follow the New Testament and those who believe in Moses in the Bible and the Old Testament. They all disbelieve in the truth; the Qur’an and worship idols; gods beside the One True God; to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth and all that is between the two. They are unaware that Satan who God Almighty has warn men to be on guard against his deceit; is leading them astray. There is no other God to be worshiped and Praised except Allah; He has no partner. The worldly life is temporary; forget not the meeting with your Lord and be content with the ornaments of this life; all shall return to Him. Follow the path of one people who worship One True God: Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus (peace be on them) and others as mentioned in the Qur’an. Now is the time to renounce other gods; heed the call of He Who Create you, and will cause you to die; the Most Forgiving, the Merciful, and Whose punishment is severe. Turn to Him in repentance for wrongdoings; worship Him alone in the mornings and evenings. Praying 5 times daily, Celebrating Eid-festivals; prostrating in the sun, Praying with loudness, Saying things about Allah which one has no knowledge is not Islam; but grievous sin and evil practices. The Qur’an is misinterpreted and the truth hidden. But now, the truth has come from the Knower of the unseen and the seen. Prophet Muhammad of Arabia is not the Messenger of Allah.
    Jesus (peace be on him), son of Mary is Muhammad(un) to the children of Israel; he prophesied the coming of Ahmad (peace be on him), who is Muhammad(un) this present age; he explain everything in the Qur’an so that all peoples; Worship none but Allah. The Qur’an is the only Book of guidance for all men in Arabic; the language they (Messengers) speak. A Book of Wisdom of which only the Gracious God can bestow the true understanding and interpretation on whomsoever He pleases. It does not teach violence as many have been deceived. Glorify and Praise God Almighty before the rising of the sun and before the setting in humility and secret (in the mind with no loudness). Afternoon Prostration is grievous wrong. Stand and Prostrate to Him in the latter parts of the night that are nearer the day. Islam is simple and peaceful; the only accepted religion by the Master of the Day of Judgment but none has practiced it. Come to Peace!, Come to the faith of one people who worship One God. Those who believe in Prophet of Arabia; Book of Hadiths do not practice Islam. All have been deceived: Those who ascribe as Muslims, Christians, Jews, others. Again, this is from the Merciful, the Most Loving to all peoples including those who doubt His Majesty or say there is no God. Turn to Him in repentance and worship in truth. There is only One True God, one True Book. The Book of Hadiths, Book of New Testament, Book of Old Testament are schism created by men who disbelieve; to turn men away from the way of Allah; they bring about enmity and hatred to the true words of God Almighty. And practicing their false teachings is worship to gods beside One True God. Thus, defiance to the truth that has now come will lead men to ruin. Relatives, friends; will not be able to save from the severe punishment of the awful day on the disbelievers who choose not to repent and reform from evil.

  • Well our beliefs have allowed us to grow exponentially and foster genuine goodwill between ourselves and our neighbors. It’s connected people from every walk of life in a global bond of brother and sisterhood and a sense of service for our fellow man. On the other hand your disbelief has led you to sit behind a computer and ridicule the beliefs of people you don’t even know and concepts you don’t understand.
    I think I can speak for all Ahmadi Muslims when I say we are pretty comfortable with the choice we’ve made.
    If you want to know more about how to develop a more positive spiritual path I suggest trying a little humility and reading something new.
    https://www.alislam.org/library/book/philosophy-teachings-islam/

  • I humbly send you information for a new beginning for you and yours:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali,
    Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic/ Ahmadi Myths:

    –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to
    bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related
    Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran
    and Islamic-Ahmadi beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah,
    Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a
    “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    “The belief in angels is fundamental to the AhmadiyyaMuslim Community. They are spiritual beings created by God to obey him and implement his commandments. … Ahmadi Muslims regards angelsas celestial beings who have their own entity as persons.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/devils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hittites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big
    birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No
    “pretty/ugly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed,
    Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies
    and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the
    demented.

    “4. To believe that all theheavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There
    are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as
    there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc.
    are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (or Ahmad )(peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense
    demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic
    violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations
    into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and weguarantee a complete recovery from your Ahmadi ways!!!!

  • The article says “His focus on achieving world peace has drawn comparisons to Pope Francis.” This resemblance between Mirza Masroor Ahmad and the Pope is entirely accurate for the following reasons:

    1) Our second caliph Hazrat Mirza Mahmood Ahmad predicted that one day our community will have caliphs who are like popes who will not benefit us spiritually.

    2) Mirza Masroor Ahmad himself has stated that his election was the same as the Pope’s election, the only difference being that we do not send a smoke signal when it is over, thus proving the prediction above.

    3) Whatever Mirza Masroor Ahmad has been preaching to the politicians etc, the same is being said by the Pope. He has never invited them to accept Islam and witness heavenly signs through his own person.

    4) Mirza Masroor Ahmad has been identified as the owner of 4 illegal offshore bank accounts as revealed by Panama Papers. This proves he and his administration is mostly concerned with wealth and status, despite the appearance of austerity.

    May God save us from such pope-like leaders and instead, may He grant us leaders who inspire our people, uplift them by showing heavenly signs and who silence the opponents with powerful arguments.

  • Nice list about why you are an Ahtiest?? i suppose. I have no problem with you believing that something comes from nothing or that buildings can build themselves. Thats your thing. Knock yourself out if it works for you. I just push back against the idea that you portray Islam as a this destructive force when there is ample evidence at least through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that Islam can be presented in a way that is peaceful and productive for society. Our over 120 years of existence has shown how it can be done and continues to be done and therefore creates the possibility that it was done before in Islam during the time of Muhammad and his early followers. If your goal is peaceful coexistence of human kind then I would think you would encorage people to try this approach because in 120 years I havent seen another global perspective, religious or secular, that has had the same ability to consistantly seek peacefully coexistence with its neighbors. Athiest Russia and China definitely havent been able to figure it out. Capitalist America and Europe are obviously still struggling. Socialism, the various branches of Christianity, Bhuddism, Hinduism, Judaism all seem to be struggling with the ability to cohabitate peacefully with opposing cultures and belief systems. So I dont need a list of your personal hang ups with theology, I just need you to acknowledge that at least this Muslim community has figured out how to coexist in peace with its neighbors and offer some benefit anywhere it is found. Therefore it is impossible to say the same Quran that we follow in order to gain guidance and inspiration to live as we do is a text that should be burned. An honest and fair person would say “Perhaps everyone can learn a lesson by applying the Quran in their lives as Ahmadi’s do.”
    Regardless of your understanding of what our belief in Angels is, that belief has led to a long and public history of our community seeking to serve their fellow man with no expectation of reward. What has your disbelief done for anyone but yourself?

  • lol. That’s an iteresting take on the situation. Are you saying because we believe children are a good thing and they should be allowed to exist and that we try to raise them in a way that teaches them to live peacefully with their neighbors is a bad thing?? Yes, we have children and raise them in a way we feel would benefit them and the world. But I’m the child of 2 converts who agreed that this was a positive way to raise a family and thankfully they stopped partying and chasing money and realized there were more important things to do with their time and money. As it turns out over 600, 000 people realized a similar thing last year and joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from different parts of the world.
    Now Mr Athiest is upset because he can’t understand why all these people who believe that life has a purpose are interupting the drug and alcohol laced shopping spree he is on. He can’t understand why anyone would want the inconvenience of multiple children and therefore uses birth control. It makes sense because he is only living for himself anyways so who cares what tomorrow brings. He has a million dollars and hopefully no kids to waste it on. That means more bars to visit, more cars to buy, more football games to attend and more casual sex with no strings attached. lol. How can anyone not want that life??

  • 1-So blind were Kuffare Mecca, seeing signs after signs, they used to ask for more signs and about them, Allah taalah says in Koran, “Those who do not know say, “Why does Allah not speak to us or there come to us a sign?” Thus spoke those before them like their words. Their hearts resemble each other. We have shown clearly the signs to a people who are certain [in faith]”.
    Existence, and progress of Ahmadiyyat a is a big sign. Life of most Ahmadis is another sign.
    2- Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad never claimed to be pope, that is opinion of a journalist who is drawing comparison from leadership standpoint and nothing more. You can stretch as you please.
    3- Panama paper and off shore bank accounts are fake news. Caliph doesn’t live in a mansion or live a life of luxury. you and I may take more vacation than him. He is giving 100% of his time and energy to spiritually reform and guiding ahmadis who live in 120 countries. He works more than you and I.
    May God help you overcome mistrust that you have in your heart about the Caliph.

  • Many western journalists and news media outlets have referred to him as the equivalent of the Pope for our community, and he and his supporters know it very well. Why doesn’t he dispel this erroneous comparison if indeed he is not the equivalent of the Pope? Why does he not speak himself?

    Furthermore, our second Khalifa predicted that we will (unfortunately) have Pope-like Khalifas who are fraudulently elected and do us no spiritual benefit. In light of the admission by Khalifa V in his own words published by the Jamat that he was elected like the Pope, and the fact that he has never cared to dispel the western media’s label of him as the equiavlent of Pope, why should we hold the prediction of a holy one (second Khalifa) as a false prediction?

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