Members of a persecuted Muslim sect performed a call to prayer at the White House on Thursday during a celebration of Eid al Fitr that was hosted by President Obama.
The event marked a victory for Ahmadiyya Muslims, an Islamic revivalist movement founded in the late 1800’s which many orthodox Muslims claim is heretical.
“In America an immigrant Muslim can go to the White House, say Salaam to the wife of the Greatest American [Muhammad Ali], call Adhaan [the call to prayer], & pray. That's powerful,” said Qasim Rashid, the national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the US, in a Twitter post on Thursday. (Rashid said he met Lonnie Ali, wife of the late Muhammad Ali, during his White House visit).
Re-sharing historic picture of Imam Azhar Haneef of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leading prayer in White House pic.twitter.com/QPEKJ7tvyR— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) July 23, 2016
Re-sharing video of my honor to call the Adhaan in the White House. Islam & America both pro religious freedom. pic.twitter.com/aPd2z73RBM— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) July 23, 2016
Rashid, who is a vocal advocate for the rights of Ahmadiyya Muslims, attended the prayer session and the Eid celebration at the White House Thursday in his capacity as director of civil rights and policy for the non-profit organization KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.
Also in attendance at the White House prayer session and Eid celebration was Imam Azhar Haneef, the Missionary-in-Charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the US. Azhar is an African-American missionary who studied Islam in Pakistan. He was invited to the White House by President Obama, Rashid told Al Bawaba in an email.
Ahmadi Islam was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a writer and spiritual leader who was born in 1835 in British-controlled India. Ahmad’s followers believe he is the messiah and a prophet, a belief that has earned them the scorn of many Muslims around the world, who claim that Ahmadiyyas are not really Muslims because they deny that Muhammad was the final prophet.
The Ahmadiyyas are established in 200 nations worldwide and are united under the spiritual leader Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Rashid said. The movement is headquartered in the United Kingdom.
There are tens of millions of Ahmadiyya Muslims globally, according to the official website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, but they experience persecution in certain places, perhaps most notably in Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed, beaten and arrested in recent decades.
“The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community is wholly legalized, even encouraged, by the Pakistani government,” Human Rights Watch says on its website.
Pakistan’s penal code “targets Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from ‘indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim,’” the group says. In 2010, over 90 Ahmadiyya Muslims were killed in a terror attack on two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly assault, but the Pakistani government has been slow to prosecute those responsible.
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