Lo­cal mosque gets visit that’s ‘heaven on earth’

Ah­madi Mus­lims wait in an­tic­i­pa­tion of spir­i­tual leader’s visit to Rosedale

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Ah­madi Mus­lims from around the United States and Canada wel­comed the spir­i­tual leader of their faith to their Bal­ti­more County mosque Satur­day — an oc­ca­sion as in­spi­ra­tional to them as a pa­pal visit to Catholics.

Hazrat Mirza Mas­roor Ah­mad, the fifth Khal­ifa of Is­lam, came to Rosedale to in­au­gu­rate the Bait-us-Sa­mad mosque as part of a U.S. tour that ear­lier brought him to the Is­lamic de­nom­i­na­tion’s na­tional head­quar­ters in Sil­ver Spring.

Like the pope, the khal­ifa (caliph) is known to his tens of mil­lions of fol­low­ers in more than 200 coun­tries as His Ho­li­ness. And to many of roughly 1,000 Ah­madi Mus­lims who waited for hours in the mosque’s park­ing lot to await the 68-yearold cleric’s visit, it was a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence.

“When the spir­i­tual father is here, it’s like heaven on earth,” said Nasim Rehmat­ul­lah, na­tional vice pres­i­dent of the Ah­madiyya Mus­lim Com­mu­nity.

“He’s like a father to all of us,” said Ab­dul­lah Dibba, imam of the mosque. “If you write to him, he re­sponds.”

Ah­madiyya is one of the smaller branches of Is­lam, one that many main­stream Sunni and Shia Mus­lims re­gard as not Is­lamic at all.

Ah­madiyya Mus­lims dif­fer from other wor­shipers of Al­lah in that they be­lieve the mes­siah has al­ready come to earth in the per­son of their founder, whom they re­gard as a re­former call­ing Mus­lims back to the orig­i­nal teach­ings of the Prophet Muham­mad.

Many Amer­i­can Ah­madis sport pins with the slo­gan “Love for All, Ha­tred for None,” an ex­pres­sion of the sect’s de­vo­tion to non­vi­o­lence ex­cept for mil­i­tary ser­vice to one’s coun­try.

“We are ab­so­lutely against all forms of vi­o­lence, ter­ror­ism, ex­trem­ism,” Dibba said. “We don’t la­bel any­one as our en­emy.”

Ah­madiyya may not la­bel any­one as en­e­mies, but there are many Mus­lims who don’t like them.

Yet Ah­madis be­lieve in em­pha­siz­ing the pos­i­tive — es­pe­cially about life in the United States.

“You can ask any of our neigh­bors. We do not feel op­pressed in Amer­ica,” Dibba said.

The Ah­madis, who have had a Bal­ti­more chap­ter since 1960, opened their Rosedale mosque two years ago in a for­mer church, Dibba said. It has been open for prayer and com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties, but Satur­day was an op­por­tu­nity for the khal­ifa to of­fi­cially in­au­gu­rate it. Rehmat­ul­lah said the Ah­madis have 74 chap­ters in the United States but that Bal­ti­more’s is one of 10 to 15 with its own mosque.

The white-bearded cleric ar­rived Satur­day as part of a mo­tor­cade from Philadel­phia at about 2:30 p.m. wear­ing a white and gold tur­ban. He walked briskly along a red car­pet to the front of the build­ing as chil­dren called out the words of po­ems they had been prac­tic­ing for months.

Once there, with a prayer but no pub­lic speech, he re­moved the drapes cov­er­ing the plaque in­au­gu­rat­ing the mosque “in the name of Al­lah, the gra­cious, the mer­ci­ful.”

He then went in­side to in­spect the mosque and lead af­ter­noon prayers in a room filled with more than 200 men of the Ah­madiyya com­mu­nity. He knelt and bowed and in­toned “Al­lahu ak­bar” (God is great) in the mihrab, the niche fac­ing Mecca found in ev­ery mosque.

After prayer with the men, the khal­ifa went up­stairs to visit the women in their sep­a­rate pray­ing area.

Nus­rat Qadir Chaudhry, a neona­tal in­ten­sive care nurse who had come from north­ern New Jer­sey for the khal­ifa’s visit, said that “peo­ple were lit­er­ally in tears” when he vis­ited the women. She said that when one lit­tle girl ap­proached him, he put his hand on her head while she hugged him.

Chaudhry said that with some male Mus­lims from other de­nom­i­na­tions, “you sense the pa­tri­archy.” But she said the khal­ifa is “very en­cour­ag­ing of women’s ad­vance­ment.”

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