The New York Times, May 7, 2003
By PAUL LEWIS
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, spiritual leader of the evangelical Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, which seeks to reinterpret Islamic doctrine in the light of the modern age, died on April 23 in London, where he had lived since fleeing Pakistan in 1984. He was 74.
The cause was a heart attack, his movement announced.
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmed was the grandson and fourth successor, or khalifatul-masih (caliph of the Messiah), of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Qadian, India, in 1889. After Indian independence in 1947, the headquarters of the faith was moved to Rabwah in Pakistan.
Rejecting orthodox Muslim beliefs, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad preached that he and not Muhammad was the last of the prophets, with the divinely inspired task of bringing God’s teaching into harmony with the present-day world. He also said he was the Messiah whose advent was awaited by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, as well as the incarnation of the Hindu god Krishna and a “reappearance” of the Prophet Muhammad.
He also taught that Jesus feigned death on the cross and escaped to India where he died at the age of 120. He reinterpreted the Muslim concept of jihad, or holy war, saying the battle against unbelievers was to be fought by peaceful, not warlike, means.
In 1982 Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad was elected to succeed his father as spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya movement, which is believed to have nearly 20 million members, concentrated mainly in the Indian subcontinent, West Africa and Indonesia, though important communities also exist in the United States and Britain.
Prominent Ahmadiyya adherents include the late Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, the first foreign minister of Pakistan, and Dr. Abdus Salam, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1979.
After being elected caliph, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad began a campaign to attract more converts to his faith. This disturbed Pakistan’s orthodox Muslim clergy, who prevailed on the government of Gen. Zia ul-Haq to start persecuting the Ahmadiyya.
Their mosques were desecrated and some followers beaten to death in a campaign of repression that many Ahmadiyya felt was really intended to distract Pakistanis from the country’s domestic difficulties.
In 1984 Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad fled to Britain in fear that the government planned to arrest him. Many of his followers also left the country, settling mainly in Britain, Germany and Canada.
This was not the first time the movement had found itself in trouble with the Pakistani authorities. In 1974 the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started a campaign against them that culminated in a constitutional amendment declaring the Ahmadiyya to be non-Muslims in the eyes of the law.
After reaching Britain, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad moved into a southwest London mosque, from which he directed the worldwide affairs of the community. He built mosques, hospitals and schools all over the world and at the time of his death was constructing one of Europe’s largest mosques in Morden, Surrey. He also founded the Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, a 24-hour religious TV network, sent by satellite to large areas of the world.
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad was born in Qadian on Dec. 18, 1928. He studied at Government College, Lahore, and at the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University. His wife, Asifa Begum, whom he married in 1957, died before him. He is survived by their four daughters.