Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is calling on the whole world to rediscover the values that bring human beings closer together.
The 67-year-old leader, who lives in West London, believes the increasing suffering and violence the world experiences today stems from people’s detachment from religion.
“All humankind is the same. If you realize these things, you can peacefully live in the world,” he tells Newsweek during an interview at his headquarters in Southfields.
As he speaks with his soft and tranquil voice, people gather outside his office waiting to see him.
A light rain trickles down the adjacent Fazl Mosque. Inaugurated in 1926, it was the first purpose-built Islamic place of worship in London.
It is where the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, relocated its headquarters.
Since 2003, Ahmad has led the community, which counts millions of members worldwide. In addition to his efforts to share the plight of his people, the Caliph has also engaged in work to promote global peace, as well as the social and economic advancement of developing countries.
Ahmadis say their mission is to disseminate the core values at the heart of Islam, such as love and respect for all, around the world. But the Caliph believes many people today no longer feel close to religion and have forgotten how to respect each other.
“Don’t play with the religions of others. Don’t play with the sentiments of others. Don’t be boastful of you being superior,” he says.
The Caliph believes that religious leaders, as well as politicians, continue to send divisive messages that exacerbate divisions and violence.
As an example, he cites U.S. President Donald Trump, known for his remarks targeting religious and ethnic groups in the U.S. and abroad.
“I don’t like what Trump is saying. So, if he respects America, America will be respected. If he does not, then even small countries will behave in the same way,” the Caliph says.
“Every country should respect other countries; every nation should respect other nations; every politician should respect other politicians.”
Who are the Ahmadi Muslims and why are they persecuted?
Ahmadis, whose movement originated in India in 1889, believe that the founder of their community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the messiah Muslims had been waiting for. This contradicts the belief by mainstream Muslims that the last prophet was Mohammed, who died centuries before.
As a result, they have become one of the most persecuted religious communities in the world.
There are at least 10 million Ahmadi Muslims in more than 200 countries around the globe, according to the community’s official website.Of these, between two and five millions are in Pakistan, thought to be home of the largest Ahmadi community.
But Pakistan is also a place where Ahmadi Muslims are harshly persecuted.
In 1974, the country introduced a bill declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. A second bill in 1984 banned the group from calling their places of worship mosques, and from propagating their faith. In response, Ahmadis moved their global headquarters to London.
After Ahmad was elected as the fifth Caliph in 2003, he relocated to London due to mounting pressure from the government of Pakistan. Thousands of Ahmadis followed suit.
But attacks against the community have continued.
Some 86 people were killed during attacks at two mosques of the Ahmadi community in Lahore in 2010, in one of the worst attacks against Ahmadis in Pakistan to date.
Masud Ahmad worked as a homeopathic doctor in Pakistan. He was arrested under blasphemy laws after a man poising as a patient secretely recorded him reciting the Quran, something Ahmadis are forbidden from doing in Pakistan.
But the persecution of Ahmadis does not stop within Pakistan borders. The challenges the group faces in the U.K. were highlighted in April 2016, when Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah was killed in Glasgow after being accused of “disrespecting Islam.”
In January, Human Rights Watch warned of increasing targeting of Ahmadi Muslims in Algeria, where more than 266 people have faced charges related to the exercise of their religion since June 2016.
“Algerian authorities continue their unabated persecution of this minority, apparently for doing no more than exercising their freedom of religion,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.