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Ahmadiyya Muslims find freedom from oppression in Canada

Mirza Masroor Ahmad, leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, sits near the Baitul Islam Mosque in Maple, Vaughan, Ontario.

Julian Liurette/The Globe and Mail

For the past month, the leader of the world's Ahmadiyya Muslim community has been visiting Canada and Canadian leaders such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the British-based leader who is considered the Caliph of the sect, recently sat down with The Globe and Mail's Sherrill Sutherland. He discussed how his religious community is flourishing in Canada, even as it faces persecution elsewhere in the world.

Can you describe the climate of oppression that the Ahmadiyya Muslims are facing in Pakistan?

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The mainstream Muslims believe that the person who was foretold by the Prophet of Islam to reform the Muslims and the whole world at large has not come. And we believe that that person has come and the title of that man, according to the prophecy of the Prophet of Islam, is of Prophet and Reformer. So this is the major cause of conflict and disturbance. And because of that, they enacted a law in 1974 declaring Ahmadiyyas as not Muslims for the purpose of law and constitution. Later on, in 1984, this law was further reinforced, that Ahmadiyyas cannot claim themselves to be Muslim. They cannot profess and practise as Muslims do. They cannot even name their children as Muslims are given the names. If you do it, you will be imprisoned for three years.

Why did the government take this position of proposing a law that would effectively ban the Ahmadiyya people?

Government should not interfere in the matter of religion; that is the secular and democratic government. But in the name of democracy, all is being done. They say it was the demand of the people that Ahmadiyyas should be declared non-Muslims so we have declared them non-Muslims. You say we are not Muslims, it's all well and good. But you cannot compel us, ourselves claim and declare we are non-Muslims. I believe I should be given the opportunity to express it. Or at least practise it if not openly express it.

What sorts of freedoms does the Ahmadiyya community in Canada have here?

We are free. We are free to practise. We are free to express our views. We are free to preach. There is a freedom of religion, freedom of jobs, of opportunities. Freedom of everything. Even in Pakistan, they say Ahmadiyyas cannot vote as a citizen of Pakistan like a normal citizen, but you have to declare yourself as non-Muslim before you'll be given the opportunity to cast your vote. We don't have our voice in the assemblies or in the councils. This is why we don't have a say. This is why politicians cannot say anything, because we are not giving them votes.

I'm sure you are aware of what's happening in the U.S. election campaign. Donald Trump is basically proposing a ban on all Muslims in the U.S. What is your message to him?

What he is doing is he is just creating hatred among the American people. If you increase hatred, we're already passing through so many sufferings and problems and discrepancies and conflicts. Instead of creating or developing hatred, we must all work together toward the better cause of humanity, and that can only be done by trying to bring peace in the society.

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Why do you think there are some Americans who are for this proposed ban?

Some of them might be having personal experiences with some of the Muslims which have incited their grievances against Muslims. But I think the majority of them know, if he is elected, he will not implement all that he is saying. I don't think any American president who is a sane person can ever take this step to ban Muslims. How will he deal with those who are already living in the country? There are millions of Muslims living in the United States.

What does it means to be an ally in terms of fighting Islamophobia?

Most of the suffering in this age is in the Muslim world. Muslims are fighting against Muslims. Governments against their people. Rebel groups against governments. And because of this some extremist groups such as Daesh [the Islamic State] and the Taliban have also emerged. They're all going against the true teachings of Islam. These extremist groups are just a nominal percentage of the Muslim population all over the world, so they do not represent Islam. They actually are doing all these things for their own vested interests.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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