Over the past decade several Shia Muslim scholars have been “repeatedly and unexpectedly” denied entry to the US, according to a report yesterday by the Guardian. In many cases these denials or revocations are without a specific reason, leaving some scholars to suspect the move is down to religious bias.
Mohammad Ali Naquvi, co-founder and chair of the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA), claims that over 50 Shia scholars have been denied entry to the US in the past decade, noting that in some cases visas have been under “administrative processing” for years.
The national executive director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) was quoted as saying: “It has a burden on the religious practice of Shia Muslims in the US, not being able to have the scholars here,” adding that “Not being able to have your religious events because of immigration enforcement is very problematic.”
Many of the visiting scholars are from western, English-speaking countries such as Britain, Canada and Australia, despite this, Ayoub believes that the restrictions are rooted in 2015 legislation, the Obama administration era Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which disqualified the visa waiver for applications from 40 countries if they had travelled to certain countries, including Iraq, Syria and Iran – countries which are popular destinations of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims.
“Nearly all Shia scholars have visited or regularly visit these countries, which automatically puts them under scrutiny under the law,” the report noted. There are concerns in the community that such measures would deprive the youth of access to English-speaking scholars, widening the cultural gap between generations.
“Those young people then find it very difficult to consolidate their faith and the culture they are living in,” Ayoub said. However, he did acknowledge that the Trump administration assisted in some cases, while activists have held talks with the current Biden administration, who have been “very receptive”.