As some 38,000 Ahmadi Muslims from more than 110 countries gathered in the countryside outside London this past August for the fast-growing [movement’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, 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
[TBC: Please see “Mysticism and the Coming World Religion – Part Two,” November 2016, for further information on the changes coming to Islam.]