Ahmadiyya is a relatively tiny sect of Islam, estimated to represent 1 percent of Muslims worldwide. Followers of this denomination are called Ahmadis. The group is far more influential than their numbers would suggest. This is due to three factors: first, Ahmadis hold a nearly pacifist view of jihad. Second, they place great importance on Islamic apologetics as well as dawah, the Islamic equivalent to evangelism. Third is the intense level of persecution Ahmadis suffer worldwide.
Ahmadiyya was founded by Indian writer Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908. He claimed to be the Mahdi: an end-times savior figure from Islamic eschatology. Ghulam Ahmad taught that Islam needed to return to its original roots. This, he felt, was most correctly done through peacefulness, dialogue, forgiveness, rejection of materialism, and empathy. Ahmad wrote many books, and his successors made many translations of the Qur’an. Later followers of Ahmadiyya participated in the first Islamic global missions.
Doctrinally, Ahmadiyya is virtually identical to Sunni (Orthodox) Islam. However, Ahmadis are considered heretics by virtually all other Muslims. This is primarily due to two doctrines held in Ahmadiyya Islam that Islam at large rejects. Foremost is their belief that the sect’s founder, Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. This contradicts the orthodox Muslim view that Muhammad was the last and final prophet of Allah. Ahmadiyya Islam teaches that any new prophet after Muhammad will be subservient to him, not his equal. This still contradicts the typical Islamic view that Muhammad’s life was the absolute last revelation of Allah to mankind.
The second point where Ahmadis strongly clash with orthodox Muslims is the claim that Jesus was indeed crucified. Most of Islam promotes the idea that Jesus—Isa in Arabic—was never crucified but only appeared to be on the cross. Ahmadiyya, on the other hand, holds to the swoon theory, claiming Jesus survived crucifixion and later died a natural death.
Due to those differences, Ahmadis are frequently subject to prejudice and violence at the hands of other Muslims. Some followers of Islam reject the names Ahmadi and Ahmadiyya since the Arabic Ahmad is considered an alternative name for Muhammad. Ahmadis are often referred to by other Muslims as Qadianis, a sneering reference to the hometown of Ghulam Ahmad.
Ahmadiyya Islam represents an interesting counterpoint to Islamic groups who embrace violence and terrorism. Ahmadis are credited as being the first to participate in Islamic missions, as they traveled abroad to encourage others to embrace their faith. They are famous for heavily promoting Islamic apologetics, peaceful methodology, and relationships. Ironically, around the same time Ahmadiyya was born, other Muslims seeking an originalist reform chose more aggressive and militant interpretation. Today that contrasting view is known as Salafism, associated with the world’s most infamous terrorist groups.
Among Christians, the most famous Ahmadi is probably Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi was a devout member of the Ahmadiyya before converting to Christianity and becoming an ardent defender of the Christian faith. His book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus details his journey from well-informed Muslim to passionate Christian believer.