A group of 161 foreign nationals, who are in Sri Lanka to preach the virtues of Islam to Muslims, have been ordered to leave the country. “The group which arrived in different batches has violated their visa status,” Immigration and Emigration Controller Chulananda Perera told the Sunday Times. He said visas were granted to them to visit Sri Lanka as tourists.
“We have their contact details and they have already been informed about the Government’s position regarding their stay in the country”.
These nationals mainly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and a few Arabs are described as members of the ‘Tabligh Jamat’ movement.
“It has been found that the group known as Tabligh Jamat had been propagating Islam in several parts of the country. Visit visas are provided to foreigners only for the purpose of tourism and nothing else,” he said.
They are reported to have visited several places in the country, mainly in the east with their headquarters at Kotahena, he said. A visit visa could be extended for two months after the payment of a fee, he said.
Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana told the Sunday Times he was aware of the group but said they were harmless and non-political.
He said the main purpose of this group was to visit underprivileged local Muslims and further propagate the Islamic faith. “They have been visiting Sri Lanka from time to time and their presence has been well known,” he added. Mr. Moulana said he was not aware of the reason for the cancellation of their visas but added that it might be for security reasons.
“There are several different Muslim sects in the country with different approaches to the Islamic faith and any one of these groups might have taken the matter up with the authorities,” Mr. Moulana added.
Tabligh Jamat officials told the Sunday Times that the members of the group spent their personal money for their cause.
They said no reason was given for the cancellation of the visas although it appeard to be on security grounds.
They said Senior Minister A. H. M. Fowzie would meet the Immigration Controller tomorrow in a bid to stop the expulsion of the group.
Minister Fowzie, however, could not be reached for comment yesterday.