His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad — an international religious figure who is scheduled to inaugurate a Baltimore-area mosque Saturday — is the caliph, or head, of the more than 10 million members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community around the globe.
He is on a three-week tour of the United States and Guatemala.
What he believes
As “Khalifa of Islam,” Ahmad, 68, is the spiritual leader of a revivalist movement within Islam.
His adherents believe, as all Muslims do, that Muhammad was the final law-bearing prophet.
But unlike other other Muslims, the sect believes that a self-taught 19th-century writer and scholar named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a messiah who fulfilled a prophecy of Muhammad by arriving in the world to keep the faith true to its roots.
Ahmad spent his life spreading what its adherents call “true Islam,” which promotes peace and social justice, forswears violence, urges Muslims to live as loyal citizens of their countries and opposes theocratic government.
Some mainstream Muslims consider the Ahmadi (ah-mah-DEE') heretics, and persecution, some of it state-sanctioned, is widespread. More Ahmadis live in Pakistan than in any other individual nation, but the government declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974 and later made it illegal for adherents to take part in Islamic observances in public. In 2010, 94 Ahmadis were killed in simultaneous attacks at two mosques in Lahore.
When a khalifa dies, Ahmadi electors choose a successor in a process considered to be an expression of divine will. Mirza Masroor Ahmad (MER-za muss-ROOR AH-mud) became the fifth caliph in 2003, three days after the death of his predecessor, Mirza Tahir Ahmad.
Ahmadiyyah Islam was established in 1889 in Qaidan, India, and has spread to 212 countries — one reason Ahmad has made international outreach a greater priority than any of his predecessors.
He travels regularly, delivers a weekly sermon that is broadcast globally, including to the Bait-Us-Samad (Bah-ATE uss Sah-MOD) mosque in Rosedale, and reaches out by letter and in person to heads of state and fellow religious leaders.
Faheem Younus, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Baltimore, says Ahmad shares the same messages every Khalifa does: Justice, fairness and loyalty to country must prevail; jihad must be considered an intellectual, not a violent, pursuit, and all faith traditions have value.
“He doesn’t just repeat the motto of our faith — ‘Love for all, hatred for none.’ He personifies it,” Younus says.
Ahmad has spoken on Capitol Hill and in the European Parliament in Brussels, but he is equally well known for seeking out and meeting individual Ahmadis during his travels.
From family farm to world capital
Ahmad grew up in a Rabwah, a village in Pakistan that has been majority Ahmadi since its founding in 1948. It served as the community’s world headquarters through 1984.
Raised in a devout home, he spent time helping out on his father’s farm.
He earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics at a university in Faisalabad, then spent eight years in Ghana, where he served as principal of a secondary school and helped introduce modern planting and irrigation techniques.
Ahmad was elected as Khalifa after spending 18 years in various administrative positions at the sect’s headquarters.
His predecessor as Khalifa moved the denomination’s headquarters to London and lived there for the rest of his life. Mirza Masroor Ahmad also lives in London with his wife, Amtul Sabooh Ahmad. He is the first person to have been elected Khalifa outside Asia.
A diverse congregation awaits
Baltimore has been home to an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community chapter since the 1960s, when the members of several African-American families converted and established a congregation in the northwestern part of the city.
The sect was in the news last year when plans were announced for a new housing complex in Joppatowne. Backers who billed the development as a “peace village” for elderly Ahmadiyya Muslims said it was open to all buyers 55 and above, but some in Harford County expressed concern it was meant to exclude non-Muslims. Ahmad has urged local Ahmadis “to pray and remain patient” in the matter, Younus says.
The Bait-us-Samad mosque has grown steadily over the years and says it has about 350 members. More than half are men and women who emigrated from Pakistan and Nigeria decades ago, but the congregation features a growing number of immigrants from other countries and a sizable number of black and white U.S.-born converts.
The congregation moved into a 13,000-square-foot building in Rosedale in 2015, but it has yet to be officially inaugurated. Ahmad will take care of that in a ceremony Saturday, lead prayers and meet individual members. He’ll be honored at a banquet that evening.
More than 500 guests are expected, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, state Sen. Jill Carter, followers from as far away as Minnesota, mosque members, neighbors and an array of ministers and rabbis.
Younus says the congregation has been “running on all cylinders” for two months as members have striven to prepare the building — and clear their own hearts — in anticipation of the visit from their spiritual father.