Sri Lanka has ordered a group of 161 foreign Islamic clerics – including a number of Maldivian citizens – to leave the country after they were found preaching Islam illegally.
AFP reported the Controller of Immigration and Emigration of Sri Lanka Chulananda Perera as saying that the clerics belonging to the Tabligh Jamat group, and were ordered to leave following complaints from the Muslim community that the “clerics were not preaching the moderate Islam” practiced normally in the Buddhist dominant country.
Perera also told that the clerics arrived in Sri Lanka on the tourist visas and they had violated Sri Lanka’s immigration laws by preaching Islam.
“We have ordered them to leave the country by January 31. They have violated immigration laws. A tourist visa is to have a holiday or visit friends and family and not to preach Islam,” Perera told AFP.
Foreign clerics are required to submit an application to the Sri Lankan religious affairs authorities to get permission before preaching Islam.
According to Perera, the clerics arrived in Sri Lanka last month in small batches.
The preachers included Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Maldivian and Arab nationals, although authorities did not specify the number of people belonging to each country.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry did not specify the number of Maldivians ordered to leave, although it confirmed the report.
“The ministry is deeply upset that some Maldivians were among the group of people ordered to leave the country for breaching Sri Lankan law,” the official added, advising Maldivians visiting abroad to respect the rules and regulations of countries they were visiting.
Tablighi community scrutinised
The group to which the clerics belonged to remains “controversial” among the Muslim community and has been criticised even by the some local religious NGOs in the Maldives.
When the Islamic Ministry permitted a group of five Tablighi Jamaat members to preach in the Maldives in 2009, several religious scholars advised the public not to join their gatherings and walked out from the mosques during the Tablighi scholars’ sermons.
Speaking to Minivan News at the time, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, the president of religious NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf, said the Tablighi Jamaat “have beliefs and principles which conflict with the true Islamic creed.”
He added that no prominent scholar had accepted their principles and all had warned against them for their “misconceptions”.
Further, Sheikh Aboobakuru said a number of Islamic clerics, including the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd Allah ibn Baaz, had urged Muslims to stay away from the group.
But, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, State Minister for Islamic Affairs at the time, defended the ministry’s decision to issue preaching permits to the group saying “they are not extremists and they are preaching according to guidelines given by the ministry”.
Speaking to Minivannews on Sunday, Ibrahim Fauzee, President of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) also said that it is “concerning to hear” that Maldivians are participating in the Tablighi group.
“I do not know about the Maldivians being deported from Sri Lanka. But we have heard that some Maldivians are involved in Tablighi group. This is very concerning and needs to be investigated,” Fauzee said.
He also added that the Tabligh group widely promotes Sufi beliefs, as opposed to the Sunni Islam practices in Maldives.
The Tablighi Jamaat, (‘society for spreading faith’) is described on Wikipedia as a religious movement founded by a Muslim named Maulana Muhammed Ilyas India in 1926, in response to degradation in practice of Islamic principles and values among the common Muslim folk and efforts by organisations to convert poorer sections of Muslims to Hinduism.
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, according to the site.
The movement gradually expanded from local to national, and turned to a translational movement and now has followers in over 150 countries.
Due to the orthodox nature of Tablighi Jamaat, they have been criticised for being retrogressive, according to the entry: “The women in the movement observe full hijab for which the Tablighi Jamaat is accused of keeping women strictly subservient”.
The group is also widely criticised for their “neutral political stance” and accused of being a “recruiting ground by al-Qaeda” – allegations which the movement has denied repeatedly.