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.