Qaradawi ban denounced across Muslim world

Britain’s refusal of visa to cleric sparks anger in Muslim world

BBC Monitoring, 20 February 2008

By Mohamed Shokry

The British government has recently refused an entry visa to prominent Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi on the grounds that he justifies terrorism. The decision, announced on 7 February, has drawn angry reactions from the Muslim world.

Egyptian-born, Qatar-based Al-Qaradawi is widely seen in the Muslim world as a symbol of moderation and advocate of inter-faith dialogue. He is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Al-Qaradawi visited the UK in 2004 and received a warm welcome from the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

The visa refusal decision has been widely viewed by Muslims as motivated by influential lobby groups in Britain.

Decision to widen “gap” between Muslims, British people

Al-Qaradawi, who condemned the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA, has nevertheless always described attacks carried out by Palestinians as “martyrdom operations”. Al-Qaradawi is banned from entering the USA.

“Britain does not tolerate the presence of a person like Al-Qaradawi on its soil. This is because of his extremist ideas and support of terrorist acts. His presence will cause divisions within society,” a British Home Office spokesman told the pan-Arab London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Some Muslim scholars have warned the British government that the decision may have a bad impact on the relations between Muslims and British people.

“The government should go back on its decision because this harms British interests and Muslims’ feelings. It will widen the gap between us and the British people,” Dr Azzam al-Tamimi, the head of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, told the Qatar-based pan-Arab TV Al-Jazeera’s “Behind the News” programme on 7 February.

“I am afraid this decision will send the wrong message to Muslims across the world on the British society and its culture,” Muhammad Abd-al-Bari, chief of the Muslim Council of Britain, commented following the decision.

Lobby groups seen behind decision

The visa refusal has unleashed a wave of accusations that the “neo-conservatives” and the “Zionist lobby” in Britain were behind it. According to Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron, had earlier described Al-Qaradawi as “dangerous” and warned that he could “cause division within the community”. He also called on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to deny him entry to Britain.

“Both the Home Office and the FCO had agreed to my visit to Britain. However, we all know that the neoconservatives are strict with anything foreign. The Zionist lobby is also influential,” Al-Qaradawi told Al-Jazeera from Cairo on 7 February.

Concurring, Dr Kamal al-Hilbawi, former spokesman for the international organization of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the West, was quoted by Al-Sharq al-Awsat as saying that the decision came in response to “pressures exerted by the neoconservatives and the Zionist lobby in Britain”.

Islam is “real target”

The British government’s decision has also been linked to the situation of Islam in Europe. A report published on the Arabic-language news website Moheet (Ocean) suggested that the “real target” of the decision was Islam. The report referred to a study by an American researcher in which he revealed that the growing numbers of Muslims in Europe poses a danger to the future of the continent.

The researcher warned of the “Islamization” of Europe, as this would have “large negative impacts” on the USA which has “sensitive economic ties” to Europe.

A few days after refusing a visa to Al-Qaradawi, the British embassy in Cairo refused an entry visa to Egyptian Islamist lawyer Muntasir al-Zayyat who was planning to participate in a symposium organized by the Centre for Islamic Civilization Studies.

“It seems that this falls within the framework of a trend by the British authorities not to allow Islamic figures to come to Britain. It began with His Eminence Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi and now comes my turn through the silly denial I was informed of today,” Al-Zayyat told Al-Jazeera on 11 February.

Calls for boycotting British products

The decision has also prompted some calls for boycotting British products and not travelling to the UK.

In a comment posted on the website of the Lebanese Al-Manar TV, Nabil, who describes himself as “a free Lebanese”, wondered: “Is it not high time for you – Muslims to boycott the British products?”

In another comment on the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera website, Abd-al-Rahim urged the Arabs to have “an international stance” and asked Muslim scholars to “stand against Britain, the criminal country”. “Boycott its products and do not travel to it,” he told Muslims.

It is noteworthy that on 20 February, dozens of protestors staged a sit-in outside the British embassy in Doha in protest at the visa refusal decision. The participants called on the British government to reconsider its decision. “Mr Brown: Why are you rejecting tolerance and dialogue?” one big banner hoisted by protestors read.