Sri Lanka has reportedly ordered on Monday 23 Jan 161 foreign Muslim preachers to leave the country for flouting visa regulations. A senior immigration official was quoted as saying that the clerics had no right to preach in mosques because they had arrived on tourist visas. The preachers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Maldives and Arab nations - must now leave by 31 January.
"They have violated immigration laws. A tourist visa is to have a holiday or visit friends and family, and not to preach Islam," Sri Lanka's immigration head Chulananda Perera told reporters. Mr Perera said the group belonged to Tablighi Jamaat - an international Islamic movement popular in Sri Lanka and the region. A Muslim source told the BBC that the movement sends groups of preachers to places of worship, urging Muslims to devote more time to their faith and act more devoutly. Any idea that they were militant was laughable, the source added.
Muslim members of Sri Lanka's government have expressed concern at the mass expulsion, and are expected to meet other officials later on Monday to try to delay the move. The news has also created consternation in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, the third largest ethnic group in the country after Sinhalese and Tamils, the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo reports.
Reapplying for religious visa
The group of 161 foreigners of the Tabligh Jamaat movement who have been asked to leave Sri Lanka for violating visa rules will be given a one-week grace period to leave the island, Senior Minister A. H. M. Fowzie told the Daily Mirror.
A meeting with the relevant stakeholders including officials of the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs will be held at 2.00pm Monday to further discuss the issue, he said.
Minister Fowzie has also briefed Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the Tabligh Jamaat movement. “I explained that this movement has helped put the Muslim community on the right track. They encourage Muslims to pray, be honest in their business dealings and to act in accordance with the Quran. I pointed out that they have not come here to create problems but to help the community, and therefore they should be accommodated”, Minister Fowzie said.
“The fact is that they were not aware that it is unlawful to engage in religious preaching while on a visit visa. They should have applied for a visa under the religious category. So they will leave within a week and re-apply under this category”, he said.
Both Secretary Gotabhya Rakapaksa and Minister Basil Rajapaksa agreed that the foreign Tabligh Jamaat members can re-apply for a religious visa, Fowzie said.
Tablighi Jamaat is a religious movement which was founded in 1926 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in India. The movement primarily aims at Tablighi spiritual reformation by working at the grass roots level, reaching out to Muslims across all social and economic spectra to bring them closer to Islam.
The movement came forth as an offshoot of the Deobandi movement. Its inception is believed to be a response to Hindu reform movements, which were considered a threat to vulnerable and non-practicing Muslims.It, gradually expanded from local to national to a transnational movement and now has followers in over 150 countries.
Tabligh Jamaat maintains a non-affiliating stature in matters of politics and fiqh (jurisprudence) so as to eschew the controversies that would otherwise accompany such affiliations. Although, Tabligh Jamaat emerged out of the Deobandi sub-school in the Hanafi fiqh, no particular interpretation of Islam has been endorsed since the beginning of movement.