My Interview with the Khalifa by Hassan Mahamdallie
It is a wintery Sunday afternoon. I am sitting, along with a friend, in a semi-detached house in Southfields, suburban south-west London, the headquarters of the world-wide Ahmadiyya movement. We are having a cup of tea and chatting with some very pleasant Ahmadiyya officials: Fareed Ahmad, a civil servant, who has responsibility for the external affairs of the UK branch, and Rafiq Hayat, an accountant, who is the elected national president with responsibility for the over hundred branches of the Ahmadiyya community in Britain and its eight mosques – with more in the pipeline. I gaze out of the window directly across the road at the Fazl Mosque. Widely known as the London Mosque, it is a compact elegant building of green and white that has the distinction of being the first purpose-built mosque in London, having been completed in 1926. I suspect that back in the 1950s and 1960s my father must have occasionally attended this mosque. He was not Ahmadi, but in those days it was the only mosque south of London (apart from the older Shah Jahan masjid at Woking) where a Sunni Muslim could join in the Friday prayers and feel a connection to the wider ummah.
We are all awaiting a message calling us across the road to our promised audience with Huzur (His Holiness) Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih V (fifth successor of the Messiah), the supreme head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He is the great-grandson of ‘the Promised Messiah and Reformer Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’ of Qadian, Pakistan. The meeting has been some weeks in the making, requests and promises batted back and forth by phone and email.
The Khalifa has been a hard man to pin down. Even though he is now resident in south London, with the London Mosque as his headquarters, it is not easy to get an interview with him; he keeps himself shrouded from outsiders. The sect’s worldwide leadership relocated to London in 1984, after it was forced out of Pakistan by the then military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq. Ten years earlier, Pakistan’s parliament had declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslim, and changed the constitution to define a Muslim ‘as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad’. President Zia’s Ordinance XX of the Penal Code made it unlawful for the Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, label their places of worship as mosques, worship in non-Ahmadi mosques, or ‘pose as Muslims’. Nowadays, the Pakistani passport form demands the applicant declare: ‘I am Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the last of the prophets. I do not recognise any person who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or of any description what so ever after Muhammad (peace be upon him) or recognise such a claimant as prophet or religious reformer as a Muslim. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an imposter nabi and also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslim’. The Muslim Council of Britain, imitating the Pakistan state, uses a similar form of words in its constitution to exclude the Ahmadiyya from membership.
The call comes through. The Khalifa is ready to see me. We make our way into the mosque complex, bypassing the tight security procedures that everyone has to go through before entering the grounds. The leader of the Ahmadis is under constant protection, flanked by bodyguards, to protect him against assassins. A necessary precaution for a sect that is so vilified, denigrated and persecuted. And the people who persecute, murder and kill the Ahmadis, are none other than those who call themselves Muslims.