More than a thousand members of a little known branch of Islam are gathering this weekend in Chino. The annual retreat is a time for Ahmadiyya Muslims to reaffirm beliefs that some consider heretical.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says it’s definitely not easy being an Ahmadiyya Muslim. “They are the most persecuted Muslim community in the world. Pakistan declares this community as non-Muslim and any attempt by an Ahmadiyy to call themselves Muslim is an arrestable offense and they can be fined, imprisoned or put to death.”
Khan’s parents fled Pakistan more than 30 years ago — and like many other Ahmadiyya, they settled in Southern California. Khan is an attorney who works on asylum cases involving Ahmadiyy facing persecution in other countries. He’s also the organizer of this year’s West Coast Jalsa Salana in Chino.
“It’s an opportunity to improve one’s spirituality”, says Khan. “There’s a lot of interesting discourse on anything from the secular to the spiritual, mostly dealing with Islamic ideology, governance issues and giving back to the community.”
The Ahmadiyya branch of Islam was founded a little over a century ago by its spiritual leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Indian-born guru proclaimed himself to be the promised Messiah foretold by Muhammad. Followers say Ahmad was sent to purge Islam of radical beliefs and restore its true and essential teachings. Ahmad condemned “jihad by the sword” and openly embraced the teachings of Jesus, Krishna and Buddha.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says those beliefs can draw scorn from other Muslims.
“That finality of prophet concept in Islam is so sacrosanct that if any Muslim community believes that there is anyone who came after Muhammad, that is essentially heretical — no matter how peaceful the teachings are. Our response is that he actually came to resurrect the peaceful teachings that we believe Muhammad taught. And I think it’s because of that ideological belief that the Ahmadiyya community is ostracized.”
Khan says the Ahmadiyya have won greater acceptance from Muslims in the U.S. than in countries like Pakistan or Indonesia. In fact, some of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s pacifist teachings were adopted by some mainstream American Muslims following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. An often heard credo in the Ahmadiyya community is “Love for All, Hatred for None.”
The Inland Empire Amadiyya community also won considerable local support after an electrical fire severely damaged the Baitul Hameed Mosque six years ago.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says it took years to restore the mosque. “We actually said prayers every Friday for over a year, maybe two years, at the Mormon church across the street,” remembers Khan. “It was amazing. They opened their church for us, and we offered all our services. So if you can imagine 5 or 600 Muslims every Friday at a Mormon church!”
The Baitul Hameed Mosque is hosting the annual “West Coast Jalsa Salana” for first time since that fire. It runs through Sunday. About 1,500 people are expected to attend.