Tens of thousands of devotees of an Islamic sect rejected by the Muslim world converged on a Surrey village yesterday to hear their leader call for a peaceful “jihad” against fanatics who follow “extremist and ignorant mullahs”.
Up to 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims from around the world were expected to attend the three-day event near the village of Tilford in Surrey. The Ahmadis are ostracised by the mainstream, which claims the faith is incompatible with the tenets of Islam.
Rafiq Hayat, the UK amir (leader), said: “There are a lot of misconceptions in the Western community. We have to join together to challenge the stigmas and our main theme is one of peace. In essence we are calling for a jihad – a battle for hearts and minds – to persuade people through our conduct and good deeds that Islam is all about peace. We see it as our duty to liberate Islam from the rhetoric of extremist and ignorant mullahs and those who follow them blindly.”
“We urge like-minded Muslims of all sects to follow suit and to rise up against the fanatics by demonstrating in a practical way that Islam is a friend, not a foe.”
Abrihim Noonan travelled from Galway for the event. “I have been spat at and called a heretic and there are people who want to kill us,” he said. “I converted to the Ahmadi community having previously spent time with Muslims such as Omar Bakri with whom I did not agree on many issues,” he said. “The biggest attraction was the fact that I see it as the faith which is most true to Islam. This is the only community that is truly united in Islam.”
Ahmadis believe that Mohammed was not the final prophet sent to guide mankind, believing instead that the final prophet was Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, who emerged from the Punjab region of northern India in 1889, a view regarded by mainstream Muslims as blasphemous.
The Ahmadi movement is the oldest Muslim faith in the UK and was led to the construction of the first mosque in Putney in 1913.