Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali, winner of best supporting actor for Moonlight Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Mahershala Ali made history on Sunday as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, for his portrayal of a drug dealer in coming-of-age drama Moonlight.

Amid the tweets celebrating Ali's best supporting actor award and hailing it as a landmark moment for US minorities, one tweet mysteriously disappeared.

"That's a first," wrote Pakistan's envoy to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, noting Ali's victory. Shortly after, the message vanished, to be preserved in screen shots.

The reason for the U-turn is Ali's membership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a minority sect who are forbidden to call themselves Muslims in Pakistan, and have faced decades of violent persecution.

Members of the Ahmadi community around the world and their supporters criticised Lodhi.

UK MP Siobhain McDonagh called on the Pakistani high commissioner, Syed Ibne Abbas, in London to join her in congratulating Ali.

Ali, whose mother is a Christian minister, was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, and converted to Islam in 1999, joining the Ahmadiyya community in 2001. He was reportedly first invited to an Ahmadi mosque while a graduate student by Amatus Karim, the woman who would become his wife.

Discussing his conversion to Islam at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards last month, he revealed that his mother "didn't do backflips" when he told her. He said that he and his mother put aside the differences in their beliefs, which are "not that important".

Article 260-3 of Pakistan's Constitution declares Ahmadis "non-Muslims" and the Ahmadiyya have faced violent attacks from religious hardliners, as well as official persecution. The persecution has spilled over into the UK, with Ahmadi Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah murdered in March, 2016, by a Sunni fanatic.

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a gay African American boy coming to terms with his sexuality in a tough Florida neighbourhood. In his speech to the SAG Ali said playing the role of drug dealer Juan, who tries to help the very young boy, taught him about the consequences of persecution.

"What I learned from working on Moonlight is that we see what happens when we persecute people, they fold into themselves," he said.

"And what I was so grateful [for] about Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him he mattered, that he was okay. And accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that."

Basharat Nazir, a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya UK Community, told IBTimes UK: "We would hope that those in positions of influence would try to promote peace and tolerance and not reinforce discrimination in any sense."