Muslims from around the world arriving in Houston for visit of spiritual leader

Imam Rizwan Khan compares the coming visit of Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth khalifa and head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, to an anticipated homecoming of a beloved parent.

Not only should the house be in top shape but the family should also be prepared, he explained. And other relatives will be clamoring to stop by as well.

“We have a fresh layer of paint drying, and everything is being cleaned,” Khan said. “We’re also expecting a large number of people coming in.”

The imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greater Houston expects guests from all over the Gulf Coast region and around the world to spend time with the Khalifa while he is at the Baitus Samee Mosque in north Houston.

Ahmad will be in Houston on Sunday and Monday and from Wednesday to Oct. 28.

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Ahmadiyya Islam

Founded: In 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spans more than 200 countries and comprises tens of millions of followers, which some observers estimate to be 1 percent of Muslims worldwide. In most countries they represent a minority of Muslims, and in some places, such as Pakistan, it is illegal for them to identify as Muslim. The current Ahmadiyya headquarters are in England. There are at least 15,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims in the United States.

Khalifa: That is the title for a leader in Islamic tradition; it means “successor” or “steward” of the tradition of the prophet Muhammad. Sunni and Shia Muslims differ on whether succession should follow the prophet’s bloodline (Shia) or spiritual election (Sunni). The Ahmadiyya community is a subset of Sunni Islam.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908): The founder of Ahmadiyya Islam was believed by his followers to be the long-awaited messiah. He preached an end to religious wars and the pursuit of justice and peace, and he advocated for the separation of mosque and state. Ahmad further declared that “jihad by the sword” should have no place in Islam. Five khalifas have succeeded Ahmad since his death in 1908. The fifth and current head is His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad. All told, the movement has built worldwide more than 16,000 mosques, 500 schools, 30 hospitals and a global disaster relief organization.

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“To truly understand the importance of His Holiness coming to Houston, you have to look at the status he has in our eyes,” Khan said. “We see him as our spiritual father. We see him as the most holy person in the world.”

Think of the pope coming to town or the Dalai Lama making an appearance, said Dr. Amir Malik, president of the Houston South Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

“It’s a very spiritual experience just being in his presence,” Malik said.

Founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a revival movement within Islam and the fastest-growing sect of Muslims in the 21st century. A khalifa, or spiritual leader, oversees the international movement, assisted by regional amirs who help place imams in local mosques.

Houston is one of only four stops Ahmad will make before heading to Guatemala to inaugurate a hospital built through the religion’s charity arm, Humanity First.

In Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, the khalifa will ceremonially recognize mosques, before heading to Houston for his first ever trip to Texas.

“For many, it’s a once in a life-time opportunity,” Malik said. “People travel thousands of miles just to get a glimpse of him, just to pray with him.”

Already his wife’s parents have arrived from Pakistan for the occasion. “My parents are coming in a few weeks, and all of my sisters are coming from California,” he said.

And Malik is not alone. “All of our houses are filled to the brim,” he said. “People come from all over for this.”

While in Houston, Ahmad will lead prayers, hold classes for children and meet with families.

“Those who have been through hardships take precedence, especially those who have come as refugees,” Malik said.

Ahmad has lived in exile from his native Pakistan since he was elected to his lifelong position in 2003.

Pakistan’s constitution and penal code restricts members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from practicing or even associating with Islam, and violators face fines, imprisonment and potentially capital punishment.

Despite persecution and attacks on the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, the khalifa forbids violence and has instructed his followers to respond through prayer.

In his new home of London, Malik said the khalifa spends his time reading the more than 1,500 letters he receives each day and meeting with members of the community.

He delivers a sermon each Friday, which is broadcast globally in more than 18 languages. He also travels the world to promote peace and interfaith harmony, speaking to political leaders and advocating for universal human rights and separation of religion and state.


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