A small branch of Islam often persecuted and called heretical by larger Muslim groups has always found friends on Capitol Hill. Now, America's Ahmadiyya Muslim community is getting official representation through a new House caucus to be officially unveiled Friday.
The new Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus will represent the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Ahmadis living in America, a small percentage of the nearly 3 million Muslims living in the United States.
President Obama has stood up for Ahmadis at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has championed the religious group's cause in the face of reports of persecution in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Now, the group will have a caucus to represent the global Ahmadiyya community.
"We are talking on the global level to wherever people are being persecuted and prosecuted for their faith," said Naseem Mahdi, missionary-in-charge and national vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. "We will not take the selfish approach that we will only talk about the rights of Ahmadiyya Muslims. We will talk about the rights of every human being, especially the rights of every believer."
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community was founded out of a movement began by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in the Indian city of Qadian, and is currently headquartered in London,* where its spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides. Ahmadiyya Muslims say they are the largest single largest Muslim group worldwide united under one leader.
Ahmadis believe in basic Islamic principles, but differ from mainstream Muslim theology in recognizing Ahmad as a prophet and messiah and arguing that Jesus died of old age. Because Ahmad believed himself a reformer of Islam, his followers see themselves as the propagators of the most perfect form of the Muslim faith.
Frank Griffel, professor of Islamic studies at Yale University, said although many mainstream Muslim communities view them as apostates, Ahmadis believe they are true followers of Islam.
"They are adamant that they are valid members of the Muslim community and protected by Islamic law in their worship," Mr. Griffel said.
Severe persecution against the Ahmadiyya community has been seen in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
The formation of the caucus comes at a time where many American Muslim leaders are encouraging more political participation from members of the faith. There are two Muslim members of Congress Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana.
"We want to represent this country in a perfect way," MD Rabbi Alam, American Muslim Political Action Committee founder and chairman, said.
Although many are doctors, engineers and professors, he said many U.S. Muslims do not understand the mechanics of local government and politics.
The new caucus boasts bipartisan leadership: Reps. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, and Jackie Speier, California Democrat, will serve as co-chairs. Last June, Mr. Wolf was awarded the 2013 Ahmadiyya Muslim Humanitarian Award.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim advocacy organization, welcomed the idea of the caucus, but said the involvement of Mr. Wolf, a leading voice for human rights on Capitol Hill, raises questions about the group's agenda.
"While the Council on American-Islamic Relations supports the concept of a congressional Muslim caucus, we question Rep. Wolf's involvement and genuine concern for issues of importance to our community given his long history of working with anti-Muslim fringe groups and causes," Robert McCaw, CAIR government affairs manager, said.
Mr. Wolf noted the numerous trips he has made to defend the religious liberties of Muslims and his authoring of the International Religious Freedom Act.
*The original version of this story misstated the founding city and current headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement.
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