Yousuf Al Qaradawi Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by Yousuf Al Qaradawi, on Monday criticised France for denying the influential cleric a visa, but said it respects the sovereign decision.

Egyptian-born Al Qaradawi, 86, has been invited to visit the country next month by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).

"We are surprised, and we admonish France for refusing to grant Yousuf Al Qaradawi a visa. He is a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thoughts," said the union's secretary-general, Shaikh Ali Al Qaradaghi.

But he told AFP that the Doha-based union "respects the sovereignty of states and their decisions as a principle," and expressed "hope that Al Qaradawi would be able to visit France, the country of civilisation and democracy."

President Nicolas Sarkozy was reported to have said on Monday that the Qatar-based cleric and other "radical" imams were not welcome in France.

Even though Al Qaradawi is no stranger to controversy, this month has seen a new set of controversies.

Al Qaradawi had his US visa revoked in 1999 and has been refused entry to the UK, reportedly for medical treatment in 2008.

The Home Office in London said he was refused entry because of fears his views "could foster inter-community violence."

Not allowed

Last year, Ireland too refused to allow the scholar to enter the country, even though he was the head of the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a private Islamic foundation whose headquarters is in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Clonskeagh, Dublin.

Sarkozy, on Sunday, said on France's Info Radio that he personally told the Emir of Qatar that "Al Qaradawi is not welcome on French territory."

Earlier this month, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Chief of Dubai Police, who had accused the Muslim Brotherhood of power schemes in the Gulf and Arab countries, vowed to arrest Al Qaradawi if he criticised the deportation of Syrians.

Al Qaradawi was banned from his native Egypt in 1961 by the Gamal Abdul Nasser regime following several arrests between 1949 and 1961 for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and advocating its activities.

The scholar moved to Qatar, but his theological influence on the Muslim Brotherhood remained, even though he refused the group's highest leadership position of General Guide at least three times.

Al Qaradawi made his first public appearance in Egypt in three decades ago at Tahrir Square where he led the Friday prayers, and addressed an audience reportedly exceeding two million people.

The scholar has often supported Muslim integration in Western societies. He has consistently condemned suicide attacks on Western targets and promptly denounced the September 11 attacks on the US, urging Muslims to donate blood for the victims.

However, he has condoned suicide attacks against Israelis as a justified form of resistance to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. This has drawn him to be labelled as anti-semetic in some western circles.

Al Qaradawi has been often accused of sowing divisions between Sunnis and Shiites by referring to Shiites in 2008 as heretics seeking to invade Sunni societies. Shiite analysts have accused him of being an instrument for anti-Shiite propaganda orchestrated by Sunnis.

However, Al Qaradawi said that it was mandatory for all Muslims to support the Hezbollah (The Shiite Lebanese party) in its fight against Israel, arguing that Shiites agreed with Sunnis on the major principles of Islam while they differed only over some interpretations.

Religious voice

Over the last year, Al Qaradawi has been seen as the religious voice giving power to people in Arab countries to rise against their oppressive rulers.

In February 2011, he waded into controversy when he issued a fatwa "to kill [Libyan leader] Muammar Gaddafi, to shoot him with a bullet and to free the country and [God's] people from him."

He has also slammed the "suppressive regime" in Syria and condemned the "atrocities" against protesters there.