Thousands of Ahmadiyya Muslims in Canadian convention

Tens of thousands of Ahmadiyya Muslims met on the final day of their annual Jalsa Salana convention in Canada, the first such event ever held in North America.

Up to 30,000 followers of the sect, which is being targeted by radical Islamic groups over its interpretation of Islam, spent three days discussing spiritual and political issues and taking part in religious observances.

The highlight of the event, in the city of Mississauga in the Toronto suburbs, was an address on Sunday by spiritual leader Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth leader of the Ahmadiyya community, founded in 1889.

Ahmadiyya Muslims claim a following of 160 million people worldwide in 150 countries.

The conference, which combines a spiritual retreat with a social gathering, touched on issues as diverse as the life of the Prophet Mohammed, the treatment of prisoners worldwide and study of the Koran.

The Ahmadiyya sect was founded in the 19th century in what is now Pakistan and breaks ranks with traditional Muslim belief by leaving open the possibility that Mohammed was not the final prophet.

Members have faced increasing persecution, especialy in Bangladesh and Pakistan recently, where they have come under fire from radical Muslim groups.

Differences over the Ahmadiyya's plight caused controversy in US-Bangladesh relations in May when assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca rebuked the Dhaka government for banning the sect's publications, under pressure from hardline Islamic groups.