Jerome Taylor: A persecuted sect prays for its dead from a mosque at the end of the Northern Line

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The Independent Online

Anyone driving north towards central London on the A24 would be hard pressed to miss the Baitul Futuh in Morden. The former dairy factory was converted into one of Britain's largest mosques and can host up to 10,000 worshippers for Friday prayers.

What is less known is that the building, whose name translates to House of Victories, also serves as the global headquarters of the Ahmadis, a minority sect in Islam that many mainstream Muslims deem to be heretical.

Few even know of their existence in Britain, largely because the Ahmadis have kept a low profile since their leaders sought refuge here after being kicked out of Pakistan in the 1980s. Their motto, "Love for all, hatred for none", emblazoned across the front of the mosque, shows their desire for a tolerant and inclusive world after decades of persecution.

Free to preach openly in Britain, they have spread into much of South East Asia and West Africa with the help of satellite TV translated into a myriad of different languages.

The sect, which claims to have around 70 million followers, is despised by fundamentalists because its members believe that their 19th-century founder was the Mahdi – Islam's equivalent of the messiah – and the successor to the Prophet Mohamed. Other than that, the sect follows mainstream Sunni teachings.

A number of Pakistan's founding fathers were followers of the Ahmadi faith, including Zafrulla Khan, who became the country's first foreign minister, and for many years the sect lived peacefully alongside its mainstream neighbours.

But persecution against the Ahmadis has flared in Pakistan whenever extremists have had the upper hand. Things turned sour in the late 1970s as Pakistan's military cosied up to hardline clerics and Saudi-influenced fundamentalists who wanted the Ahmadis outlawed. Pakistan is now the only country that refuses to recognise them as Muslims. Followers face three years in jail if they claim to be Muslims. Critics say that by stigmatising the community, the government has given militants an excuse to act against the Ahmadis with impunity.

Violence against the sect has spiked in recent years with militants gunning down key leaders in broad daylight. But yesterday's multiple assault on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore is the most brazen attack yet.

At an emotional midday prayers in Morden yesterday, the group's spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, asked congregants to pray for the dead. "These people had come to offer their Friday prayers and yet became victims of a heinous terrorist attack," he said. "May God grant patience to the bereaved and elevate the status of those who have been martyred."