France's decision to bar influential Muslim cleric Yousuf Al Qaradawi is "surprising" according to the International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by the cleric.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday that the Qatar-based Sunni cleric and other ‘radical' imams were not welcome in France. "We admonish France for refusing to grant his visa. He is a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thought," said the union's secretary general, Shaikh Ali Al Qaradaghi. Sarkozy, seemed to have taken a calculated risk by taking the decision to ban the 86-year-old religious leader that will put the presidential candidate at odds with French Muslims less than a month before polls.
The move could also result in standoffs with some Islamist-led governments and the incoming rulers of Egypt who view Al Qaradawi as a spiritual leader. Sarkozy has led a relentless onslaught by the radical right to appease and his campaign strategists are working to paint him as the saviour of France following the shooting of three children and a Jewish rabbi by a Muslim Frenchman last week.
Qaradawi was denied a visa to visit Britain in 2008 on grounds of seeking to "justify acts of terrorist violence or disburse views that could foster inter-community violence," a Home Office spokeswoman said at the time. The cleric had defended Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and attacks on US-led forces in Iraq. Born in the Nile Delta village of Saft Turab in 1926, Al Qaradawi was imprisoned several times under Egypt's monarchy for his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood.