Sunday, October 16, 2005

Al-Azhar Boycotts US Over Visa Denial

Al-Azhar Boycotts US Over Visa Denial
Sheikh Tantawi has suspended cooperation with all official American institutions.
CAIRO, October 15, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni world, has decided to shun American officials and freeze cooperation with all US institutions after Washington denied one of its senior officials an entry visa.
"Grand Imam Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi decided to ban US officials from entering the headquarter of Al Azhar Sheikhdom in Cairo suspended cooperation with official American institutions," well-placed sources told IslamOnline.net on Saturday, October 15.
"He also decided not to send Al-Azhar scholars to the US in the future even if Washington granted them entry," they added.
After weeks of procrastination, the US Embassy in Cairo refused to give Sheikh Abdul Hamid Al-Atrash, the head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, an entry visa, giving no reasons.
Sheikh Tantawi had nominated the prominent scholar to give lectures and sermons at a number of American Islamic centers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The United States requested this year 22 imams and preachers to meet the religious needs of the Muslim minority during the dawn-to-dusk month.
Renewed Crisis
Although there was no immediate comment from the American embassy, sources expected American diplomats to apologize for Sheikh Tantawi and eventually give Al-Atrash the visa.
They cited the upcoming visit of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) delegation as one motivator.
The Al-Atrash incident was not the first.
In 2002, the US embassy refused to give a number of preachers and Qur'an reciters entry visas during Ramadan.
An embassy official demanded to test the applicants to make sure they were "real preachers".
The American position drew fired from Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqafs (religious endowment) as "an unacceptable insult."
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, American authorities imposed strict measures concerning visa issuance to citizens of some Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt .
This includes applying for a visa three months in advance.

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