PARIS - The French government on Thursday, March 29, banned four Muslim scholars from entering the country to attend a major Islamic conference next week.
"These people's positions and statements calling for hatred and violence seriously damage republican principles and, in the current context, represent a serious threat to public order," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Interior Minister Claude Gueant said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The statement said Saudi scholars Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar were banned from entering France to attend the Bourget conference next week.
Egyptian preacher Safwat al-Hijazi and a former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri were also banned.
The ban comes days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown on preachers he says promote radical views in the wake of a spate of killings by an Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman in Toulouse.
France also planned to bar prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi from entering the country to attend the conference.
Bu the statement said that Qaradawi, the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and Egyptian preacher Mahmud al-Masri have decided not to come for the conference.
Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election in the April-May vote, said on Monday that Qaradawi was not welcome in France.
Qaradawi, one of the most influential scholars in the world, is known for his moderate views and is widely respected around the world.
He is also the chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and a trustee of the Oxford University Center for Islamic Studies.
He has published dozens of books, chiefly The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam.
He has vehemently condemned all terrorist attacks in the West, including the 9/11, Madrid and London, as well as the Bali bombing that targeted foreign tourists in Indonesia.
Moreover, he backed Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described Qaradawi as a "leading progressive Muslim" and likened him to reformist Pope John XXIII.
He praised Qaradawi's staunch support to democracy and efforts to bridge the gap between Islam and the West.
Tariq Ramadan Ban
The French government regretted that Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan has been invited to the Bourget conference.
His "positions and statements are against the republican spirit, which does not do any service to France's Muslims," the ministers said in their statement.
France cannot prevent Ramadan from entering as Switzerland is a member of Europe's visa-free Schengen zone.
Ramadan is one of Europe's leading Muslim thinkers and has often condemned terrorism and extremism.
His reputation in British and American academic circles is one of a moderate expert on Muslim affairs.
The author of 20 books and 700 articles on Islam, he was named by Time magazine as one of 100 innovators of the 21st century for his work on creating an independent European Islam.
Ramadan's grandfather founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, of which his father was a senior member exiled by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.He is known for his opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He has been barred from entering US territory since 2004.