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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Islamic sect gathers in Surrey

By Barnie Choudhury
BBC social affairs correspondent

Here is a small fact to bore the guests at your next dinner party. Did you know that there is a small part of Surrey called Islamabad?

Ahmadiyyas pray
Surrey makes an unlikely destination
It is in Tilford and is owned by a little known Muslim group called the Ahmadiyyas.

They may call themselves Muslims but they are ostracised by mainstream Islam for being impostors.

This difference goes beyond mere name-calling.

According to the human rights group Amnesty International, Ahmadiyyas are being persecuted and killed.

Sharif Ahmed Abro, a thirty-five-year old from Pakistan, says he fled his home and is seeking asylum in Britain.

"I'm an Ahmadiyya and when I was in Pakistan my brother was murdered. I'm really scared because I know if I go back they'll kill me."

Prophet dispute

And the reason for this bitterness and hatred?

Most Muslims believe there can be no prophets after Mohammed. But Ahmadiyyas disagree.

They say there can be other subordinate prophets after Mohammed, whom they say was the last "law-bearing prophet".

To many this will seem like angels dancing on the head of a pin. But it has led to decades of dispute.

Ahmadiyya child
The Ahmadiyyas say they number up to 200 million
This weekend 30,000 Ahmadiyyas are meeting for their annual convention.

Travel down to Tilford and you think you have stumbled on a rock concert.

There are muddy fields and where they are you can guarantee a city of tents.

There are dozens of them as far as the eye can see, fluttering precariously next to various flags of the many countries where people have travelled from.

The Ahmadiyyas also have their own television station which they fund. They use it to pump out their brand of Islam to around 100 countries.

This weekend they will hear from their new spiritual leader Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

He has, say the Ahmadiyyas, 200 million followers or a fifth of the world's Muslims. Mainstream Islam disputes this figure.

Clerics' agitation

So far the reports of persecution have been outside Britain. But the fear among many, says the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, Rafiq Ahmed Hyat, is that the hatred is spreading to these shores.

"You find that people outside Britain are trying to urge people to rise against us. The clerics would love them to create trouble in this country as well."

The Muslim Council of Britain, which says it has 400 Islamic organisations affiliated to it, urges that there should be no persecution or violence towards Ahmadiyyas.

But they will always remain outsiders says its spokesman Inayat Bunglawala.

"We would welcome them back into the mainstream. To do that they'd have to reject and discard their belief and agree with other Muslims that there is no prophet after the final prophet Mohammed. "

All the while there is this fundamental difference of opinion the Ahmadiyyas will never be accepted as proper Muslims. That means there will always be discord among certain quarters of Islam.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Barnie Choudhury
"Mainstream Islam says they are fakes"



SEE ALSO:
Scholars debate future of Islam
11 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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