|Yusuf al-Qaradawi, based in Qatar, has been banned from entering the US since 1999 [AFP]
The International Union of Muslim Scholars has criticised France for denying an influential Doha-based cleric a visa.
Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 86, had been invited to visit France next month by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).
"We are surprised, and we admonish France for refusing to grant Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi a visa. He is a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thoughts," said Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi, the union's secretary general.
But he told the AFP news agency that the Doha-based union "respects the sovereignty of states and their decisions as a principle," and expressed "hope that Qaradawi would be able to visit France, the country of civilisation and democracy".
President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday that the Qatar-based Sunni Muslim cleric was not welcome in France.
"I told the emir of Qatar himself that this gentleman was not welcome in the territory of the French Republic," Sarkozy told France Info radio.
Qaradawi backed Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
"I said that a certain number of people, who have been invited to this congress and who maintain or who would like to take positions that are incompatible with the republican ideal, would not be welcome," Sarkozy said.
The cleric is accused of having made anti-Semitic and homophobic statements and was banned from entering Britain in 2008. He has been banned from entering the United States since 1999.
Qaradaghi also said the union condemned the recent shootings in the French city of Toulouse in which three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi were killed.
"It is not permissible to kill children, pastors, and priests, even during war time, so what if it was during peace, and in an allied country," he said.
"We consider France an allied country that had a major role in the Arab Spring, especially in Libya. We expect it to play a similarly strong role to liberate Syria," he said.
Source: Agence France Presse