SAN FRANCISCO An Islamic scholar from South Africa was denied entry into the United States, prompting questions from Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area who had invited him to participate in activities marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Fazlur Rahman Azmi was detained by officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he arrived at San Francisco International Airport from London on Friday afternoon, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties group.
Azmi, who had made previous visits to the country as recently as April without problems, was questioned for hours before being denied entry and sent on a plane out of the country on Saturday, the group said.
Michael Fleming, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, confirmed Saturday that Azmi was forced to leave the country after a brief detainment.
"His application for entry into the U.S. was determined to be inadmissible," said Fleming. He refused to give any details of the case.
About 1,000 people are denied entry into the United States every day for reasons that include inadequate travel documents or because their names appear on a U.S. government watch list.
"There's nothing suspicious about him," said Nawaz Khan of the Fremont, California-based Islamic Society of East Bay whose members waited at the airport Friday while officials questioned Azmi. "He is not involved in any political groups. All he does is teach at the mosque and pray."
Khan said no one from the group was allowed to speak with Azmi or provide food for the 60-year-old man, who is diabetic and was fasting during the day in observance of Ramadan. Officials only gave Azmi chips and water, he said.
Khan said late Saturday afternoon that he still had not heard from Azmi, and had been fielding anxious calls from the scholar's family in South Africa. Officials would not say where his outbound flight was headed.
"The way visiting Islamic leaders are treated by American authorities can send either a positive or negative message to Muslims worldwide," CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. "So far, the message in this case has been negative."
Last month, another Islamic scholar from South Africa, Ismail Mullah, was denied entry into the country when he arrived at Dulles International Airport for a trip to visit Muslims in northern Virginia.
Also in September, the government denied a visa to one of Europe's most prominent Muslim scholars, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University, contending he gave material support to a terrorist group. Ramadan's attorneys alleged the U.S. government was using a charitable donation as a pretext for censorship.