The International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, on Monday criticised France for denying the influential cleric a visa, but said it respects the sovereign decision.

Egyptian-born Qaradawi, 86, has been invited to visit 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 the union's secretary general, Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi.

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