LONDON — With its towering minarets, the Baitul Futuh mosque is an imposing sight that can't be missed once you step outside the train station at Morden in South London.
Built in 2003, the mosque is Western Europe's largest place of worship for the Ahmadi, a minority sect of Islam persecuted in Pakistan and facing rising discrimination and hostility in the UK from extremist Sunni Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain condemns violence towards the Ahmadis but won't classify the group as Muslims.
Friday prayers at Baitul Futuh are attended by thousands of worshippers and broadcast via satellite to 200 countries around the world. At a recent gathering, at least 3500 faithful from across the UK came to listen to their caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad speak.
Security is tight after the recent murder of Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah in Glasgow for "disrespecting" Islam and the discovery of hate leaflets calling for the murder of Ahmadis in universities, mosques and shopping centres in London.
A policeman is deployed on the street facing the mosque, while several members of the community stand vigilant inside and outside.
Ahmadi leaders are concerned the recent episodes of discrimination are just the beginning of a new wave of extremism and persecution in the UK.
"Unless the government take action, Britain will become like Pakistan, with a law and order regime," Rafiq Ahmad Hayat, head of Britain's Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK, told Mashable.
"Then, not only the Ahmadi, but everyone will be targeted."
After the Glasgow killing, members of the community are seriously worried about a perceived rise in anti-Ahmadi sentiment in the country.
The Glasgow shopkeeper's murder
"Before the incident people still believed we're not Muslims — but now they're more open and expressing all things they had inside," said Imran Ahmad Khalid, an Ahmadi imam.
The recent wave of discrimination started when Shah, a shopkeeper living in Glasgow's Shawlands area, who also posted quasi-sermons to his YouTube channel, was stabbed to death outside his newsagents on the night before Good Friday.
Before his death, Shah had written on Facebook: "Let’s follow the real footstep of beloved holy Jesus Christ and get the real success in both worlds."
The man accused of the murder is Tanveer Ahmed, a Muslim from Bradford, who justified the murder because Shah had "disrespected Islam."
"If I had not done this, others would and there would have been more killing and violence in the world," he said in a statement via his lawyer.
The murder sent shockwaves through the community of 35,000 Ahmadi in the UK and echoed similar sectarian killings in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
"He was a brother, a real gentleman who interacted with the community," said Basharat Nazir, press secretary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK.
On April 7, Glasgow's Ahmadi community leader Ahmed Owusu-Konadu called on all Muslims to condemn the killer's statement.
The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the targeting of Ahmadis as "totally unacceptable" while stating it's "not in a position to represent or be represented by the Ahmadi community."
"Muslims should not be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so, at the same time, we call on Muslims to be sensitive, and above all, respect all people irrespective of belief or background," it said
Mashable contacted the Muslim Council for further comment but received no response.
Hate leaflets and 'apartheid'
On April 18, representatives of the Glasgow Central Mosque and the Muslim Council of Scotland shunned the launch of an anti-extremism campaign in Scotland organised by Ahmadis.
The Ahmadi claim that decision reflects a general attitude of scepticism in the Sunni Muslim community towards them.
While hardliners regard Ahmadis as worse than apostates — Muslims who turned away from the true faith — many in mainstream Islam still believe the group does not belong in extended family, a source who works closely with Muslim groups in the UK told Mashable, under condition of anonymity because he fears for his own security.
"At primary school, where my daughter teaches, a Muslim six-year-old told her best friend, an Ahmadi girl, that they cannot be friends anymore because she's a Ahmadi," Rafiq Ahmad Hayat said.
"The message of hate is spreading and affecting our children. And sectarianism doesn't just stop at Ahmadi, it also affects Shia and other Muslims sects."
In Tooting, not far from the Baital Futuh mosque, apartheid-like episodes of discrimination in which Ahmadi are refused employment by other Muslim businesses or not served food in restaurants have been widely reported by members of the community.
"Leaflets were up in shops encouraging Muslims to boycott Ahmadis and generally to incite hatred against Ahmadis," Farooq Aftab, deputy director of communications for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, told Mashable.
"A butcher was dismissed from his shop because he was an Ahmadi Muslim. Another businessman saw less Muslim customers coming to his shop because of the anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric."
Earlier in April, Scottish police seized a poster attacking the Ahmadi community from a store in Glasgow. The city's central mosque also voluntarily removed similar posters on display close to its main prayer hall, according to the Herald.
Tell Mama UK, the Islamophobia phone helpline, told The Guardian there is a surge in reporting of anti-Ahmadi harassment since the killing in Glasgow, although that may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Many Ahmadis remain wary of reporting cases of harassment or discrimination for fear of being labelled "friends of the West" by the wider Muslim community, an allegation that has haunted the sect since it was founded in the end of the 19th century.
Mark Hamilton, hate crime lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, recently admitted they don't have a "big feel" on how widespread Ahamdi hate crimes are.
"We suspect strongly that interfaith hate crime is very underreported. The Ahmadi are very small, 30,000 against an overall Muslim community of 2.7 millions... in the last number of months we're getting a sense of issues developing in the Muslim community, not only about Ahmadi but also Sunni and Shia."
In the past two years, there's been a 17.9% increase in London for overall racist and religious hate crime offences, according to Met Police figures released to Mashable, which it attributes in part to a growing willingness by people to report. However, Scotland Yard says hate crimes are "still under reported".
Where does the hatred stem from?
Unlike other Muslims, Ahmadis believe Mohammed was not the last Prophet, and that he was followed by caliph Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, born in the then British-controlled Punjab, India, in 1835.
As the final Facebook post of the killed shopkeeper shows, Ahmadis give an important role to the figure of Jesus Christ, who they believe did not die on the cross but went to northern India in a mission to unite all religions.
It's in the form of Jesus Christ, the Ahmadis believe, that the messiah appeared to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
“They have a number of different beliefs to other mainstream Islamic sects," Dr. James Hodkinson, Associate Professor and researcher on Muslim communities in the UK at Warwick University, told Mashable.
The upgrading of the figure of Jesus as a uniting figure leads the Ahmadis to see themselves as a completion to all religions, with an alternative caliphate and a parallel belief structure based in the London headquarters.
“The Ahmadis see themselves as a peaceful, tolerant and inclusive group, which believes to be the most perfect form of Islam, but precisely that belief has driven a wedge between them and other Muslim groups," Hodkinson said.
Historically wealthier and more influential than the general population, Ahmadis played an important role in the judiciary and civil service before and after Pakistan's creation in 1947, with some caliphs sitting in the Kashmir committee or at the United Nations.
But soon, theological difference came into play and got intertwined with the politics of the 20th century and the rise of political Islam in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Under pressure from the latter, Pakistan’s first elected prime minister and secular leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — Benazir Bhutto's father — introduced a constitutional amendment in 1974 that declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.
"They introduced laws that can get us locked up in prison for up to three years if we pronounce in public the Islamic greeting As-salāmu ‘alaykum [peace be upon you] or preach in public," Hayat said.
From that point on Ahamdis started to be shunned by other Muslims.
Extremist preachers and teachers in Islamic schools were free to openly preach hate and prey on poor communities, Hayat claimed.
In the 1980s, along with mass migration from Pakistan, this hate preaching began spilling to the UK.
Pakistani migrants who had settled around factory-towns in the 1950s wanted native imams to educate their children.
"Those imams... were filled with hate; of the West, of the Jews, and of course of the Ahmadis. They started preaching hate here to people of this country," Hayat claimed.
The Ahmadi leader, who has lived Britain since the 1960s, saw a shift in attitude among his closest Muslim friends.
"Slowly, I could see a slight change in their behaviour. They are reasonable people, but you can see there was an issue there," he said.
As intolerance towards the Ahmadis takes root in Britain and fundamentalists see an opportunity to exploit ISIS' successes in the Middle East to radicalise youngsters, the community has launched several initiatives in a bid to tackle extremism.
In Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee the Ahmadi decorated 100 buses with banners proclaiming "united against extremism" in a two-week campaign. Every year, a peace symposium is held at Baitul Futuh Mosque.
In his addresses, Caliph Hazrat Mirza Amad says the Quran "states that there should be no compulsion in religion" and "tolerance of others and a respect for their beliefs is paramount."
However, community leaders acknowledge that without the British government's help, their efforts can be wasted.
"We have a problem in the UK which is called freedom of speech," Hayat said.
"The government cannot define hate speech, that's why these extremist Muslims have been able to say: we're not breaking the law."
"We need to strengthen the police's arm on hate speech."
Authorities also need to work in concert with the Muslim community to clamp down on hateful preachers in mosques, where much of the radicalisation is being done, according to Hayat.
Mashable reached out to the Home Office for a response, but has not yet received one. In previous statements, the government says it's worked with over 250 mosques and 50 faith groups and distributed over 200,000 leaflets and posters in the past five years.
Despite the recent episodes of discrimination and violence, Ahmadi leaders claim to be worried more about Britain than their own small community.
"We've had a lot of experience in seeing how extremism can grow from one little act to another," said Basharat Nazir. "Is the government really aware of how this thing can slowly grow out of control?"
"If we're not careful this country can turn to be — God forbid — another extremist Muslim country.
"The danger is real".