The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pittsburgh is small — there are only about 150 members — but it is focused on a mission. As it condemns radicalization and extremism committed in the name of Islam, said Adnan Ahmed, the movement’s official imam in Pittsburgh, it aims to foster understanding among different faiths.
Last weekend, Ahmed assembled a panel of several local faith leaders at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Wilkinsburg to speak about the founding prophets of their respective religions and how those leaders promoted peace and tolerance. Presenters at the Feb. 28 program included Sanjay Mehta of the Hindu Jain Temple in Monroeville; Sucha Singh of the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara in Monroeville; Pastor Rita Plat of the United Methodist Church of Wilkinsburg; and Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill.
Gibson’s planned presentation was about Moses, he said in an interview prior to the event.
“I think we are looking for foundational commonalities,” Gibson said of the program. “Our job, as I see it, is to demystify each other, to break down the stereotypes provided in the media and to show that we have much in common from a faith perspective, even if we have differences politically. Our job is to remove the clouds and shrouds of misunderstanding. If I can help toward that goal, I am honored to do that.”
This was not the first time Ahmed has brought together community leaders from various faiths. Last year, during the month of Ramadan, he hosted a panel to speak on the various traditions of fasting among different religions.
The Ahmadiyya community, founded in 1889 as an offshoot of Sunni Islam, differs from more mainstream Islamic groups in that its adherents believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in India in 1835, was the messiah, and that he was sent by God to end religious wars, reinstitute morality, and condemn bloodshed. Many mainstream Muslims do not consider the Ahmadiyya movement to be a legitimate sect within Islam, and its adherents are frequently persecuted in the Muslim countries in which they live.
The Ahmadiyya sect was established in the United States in 1920 as one of the first American-Muslim organizations. Although the Ahmadiyyas are relatively few in Pittsburgh, it is a fast-growing international movement within Islam. The community spans 206 countries, and claims membership of over 160 million people worldwide. The Ahmadiyyas are focused on performing good deeds for the benefit of the wider community, Ahmed said in an interview.
“Islam does not encourage the use of force, but rather spiritual teachings,” he said, stressing that the Ahmadiyyas “do not believe in violent jihad and killing of innocent people.”
In Pittsburgh, the Ahmadiyyas have taken on projects that include distributing food to the poor and participating in blood drives. On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, all 73 chapters of the Ahmadiyyas across the United States began a campaign to collect blood to honor the memory of the victims of the terror attack.
“We wanted to show that we are not ones who shed blood, but we are ones who give blood,” Ahmed said.
Working alongside the American Red Cross, the Ahmadiyyas have collected 33,000 pints of blood so far, according to the Ahmed.
Another initiative of the Ahmadiyya community is to reinforce the concept that Muslims are loyal to the countries in which they reside, Ahmad said.
“There is a myth that Muslims are not loyal to the country they reside in,” he said. “But they are ready to sacrifice their lives for the love of country.”
Ahmed came to Pittsburgh about 18 months ago. Originally from Pakistan, he completed his theology degree in Toronto at the Ahmadiyya Institute of Islamic studies, where he spent seven years immersed in Islamic theology and comparative religions.
“We are trying to help the community and bring commonality instead of differences,” he said.
Guests at the Feb. 28 interfaith panel discussion included the mayor of Wilkinsburg, John Thompson, and Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, honorary consul of France in Pittsburgh. Ahmed had reached out to Le Garrec in condolence in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year.
“It is not Islam that is encouraging these acts,” Ahmed said of the epidemic of terrorism and murder that is being committed purportedly in the name of Islam. “Extremists have nothing to do with Islam. We want to tell people that Islam is a religion of peace.”
Terrorist acts by groups such as Hamas, al-Qaeda, and ISIS are not condoned by Islam, Ahmed emphasized.
“It says in the Koran that whoever kills one innocent person, it is like he killed the whole of humanity,” he said.
Ahmed intends to plan more interfaith community events. “If all the major religions come together, we can tackle radicalization,” he said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In “Ahmadiyya’s imam calls for a common ground of peace, tolerance” (March 5), the story incorrectly stated that the Ahmadiyyas do not believe in jihad. Rather, the story should have said the sect does not promote violent jihad and the killing of innocent people. According to imam Adnan Ahmed, “Jihad means struggle, and we promote the jihad of purifying oneself and overcoming your evil desires.”
Also, the story should have stated that the Ahmadiyyas have collected 33,000 pints of blood since 2011 and that the effort is ongoing. The story incorrectly stated that the community collected all 33,000 pints in one day. The Chronicle regrets the errors.