RIYADH, 20 May 2004 — A Canadian Embassy official yesterday refuted press reports that Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, an imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, had been denied entry into his country.
“The question about blocking the entry of Sheikh Al-Sudais does not arise because he has not applied for a visa so far,” Yves Duval, a spokesman of the embassy told Arab News.
Duval was referring to reports carried by local Arabic newspapers that the Islamic scholar was denied a visa by the embassy as a result of pressure from Jewish organizations.
“How can I speculate on a non-existent visa request? I can only say that Saudis are generally welcome to visit Canada,” the official said when asked whether Al-Sudais would be granted visa if requested.
The issue of Sheikh Al-Sudais’ visit was raised during the question hour at the Canadian Parliament recently. A Canadian legislator, Jason Kenney, called on the government to block the entry of the Islamic scholar to Canada on the grounds that some of his sermons were anti-Semitic.
Al-Riyadh Arabic newspaper reported yesterday that Canadian authorities had denied entry visa to Al-Sudais, who is due to arrive in Toronto by the end of this week to deliver a series of lectures and attend other programs.
“A number of Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith had urged Ottawa last week to refuse an entry visa to the imam, alleging he had delivered anti-Semitic sermons,” the daily said.
This is not the first time controversy has erupted as a result of embassies refusing to issue visas to Saudi nationals.
The French Embassy refused entry to 13 charity officials, who were planning to attend an international conference last year. Early this year, American authorities refused to give a visa to the father of Muhammad Al-Ayed, a Saudi national who was in police custody. Canada, which had exempted Saudis from visa requirements, imposed visa restrictions on Saudi nationals after the terror attacks in the United States.
Referring to the controversy involving the Makkah imam, Duval said that the Canadian government already rejected the motion in the Parliament because it needed time to consult with officials in the departments of foreign affairs and immigration.
Sheikh Al-Sudais was invited to attend a conference being organized by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) near Toronto this month.
“We generally welcome Saudis visiting Canada, evident from the fact that nearly 15,000 Saudis went there last year and we anticipate the number of Saudi visitors will increase by 25 percent this year,” Duval said.
This is in addition to an increasing number of Saudi students going to Canada for educational purposes. Saudi Arabia ranked first among GCC countries in sending students to Canada last year.
“The rejection rate of visa applications is only two percent,” he added.
ISNA, which is organizing the conference in Toronto, is an association of Muslim organizations and individuals in North America that provides a common platform for presenting Islam and supporting Muslim communities besides developing educational, social and outreach programs. It has also been working, within the framework of its mandate, to safeguard the interests of Muslims in the US and Canada besides fostering good relations with other religious communities, civic organizations and government institutions.