WASHINGTON (CNN) - You've almost certainly never heard of him, but Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad drew some serious star power at a recent Capital Hill reception in his honor.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican Sen. John Cornyn were among the many lawmakers who showed up to meet Ahmad, a Muslim leader who was in town last week on a rare U.S. visit from London.
At a time when the United States is struggling with its views about Islam -- as Islamists gain power in the Middle East and with ongoing concerns about Quran-citing terrorists -- it's not hard to see Ahmad's appeal to both parties. As he said in his Capital Hill speech, he has "love for all, hatred for none."
It's a sentiment that Sen. Robert Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, echoed in introducing Ahmad, praising the "leadership you have shown to tolerance and to peace."
It's not just Ahmad who espouses his can't-we-all-get-along read on Islam. The 61-year-old is the spiritual leader of the global Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, whose friendliness toward the West and whose criticism of other Muslims has earned the sect allies at the highest level of the U.S government, even as it faces mortal enemies in other parts of the world.
Unlike most Muslims, Ahmadis believe that the 19th century founder of their sect was the metaphorical Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
It's because of that belief that Sunni and Shiite Muslims do not regard Ahmadis as true Muslims. The rift has provoked Egypt to charge Ahmadis with blasphemy, Saudi Arabia to deport them and Pakistan to pass a law that designates Ahmadis as non-Muslims.
On a sweltering recent Friday, a long line of people sat patiently in a mosque on the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington. Despite the heat and humidity, they seemed happy to be there, waiting for a chance to meet the leader of their faith.
Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who leads an international Ahmadi community is the sect's fifth Khalifa, or leader. The group claims tens of millions of followers around the world, but outside experts say the number is smaller, in the millions.
For Ahmad and his followers, their relatively small sect is the real face of Islam, which has more than a billion followers around the world.
"It is time that we, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, should give the real and true picture of Islam," Ahmad said in an interview inside the Silver Spring mosque. "I will always be talking about peace. That peace is not from myself or some new teaching but it is the true, real teaching which I gather and get from the holy Quran."
That emphasis, says Ahsanullah Zafar, the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, is rooted in a belief that the only jihad worth practicing is against one's own self -- a jihad of self-improvement. The word jihad is often translated as struggle or war.
"Even more important than prayer, which we talk about a lot, is how you behave as a human being," Zafar said. "It is not physical fighting that accomplishes anything. It is dialogue and the progressivism that leads somewhere."
Founded in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect is the only Islamic group that believes that a second prophet has come, in the form of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmad lived at a time of great religious upheaval, said Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University.
"In India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad said that he has the message of the renewal of Islam," Ahmed said. "Slowly it began to build momentum - it is a kind of spirited, modern version of Islam."
Ahmed characterized the makeup of the Ahmadis as "very scholarly, very prominent leaders in Pakistan."
But when the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party in Pakistan, began to push the country to a more orthodox view of Islam in the 1970s, the Ahmadis were cast out.
Jamaat-e-Islami argued that the Ahmadis did not conform to a key tenet of Islam -- the finality of the prophet Mohammed. "That is the elephant in the room for the Ahmadis," said American University's Ahmed. "The Ahmadis say that there are two kind of prophets. One is the lawgiver. Then there are messengers who come with a message and not necessarily a new book."
In light of the crackdown, many Ahmadis began to leave Pakistan, some as religious refugees. Large numbers of Ahmadis now live in Germany, England, Ghana, Canada and the United States, where the Ahmadis claim tens of thousands of followers.
But persecution persists.
In 2010, almost 100 people were killed when two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, were attacked by men armed with hand grenades and AK-47s.
In the U.S. government's 2012 International Religious Freedom Report, the plight of Pakistan's Ahmadis was front and center.
"Among Pakistan's religious minorities, Ahmadis are subject to the most severe legal restrictions and officially sanctioned discrimination," reads the report. The same report outlined violence against Ahmadis in Indonesia, where it said that at least 50 Ahmadiyya mosques have been vandalized.