WASHINGTON (AP) – An Islamic cleric from South Africa was denied entry into the United States, disrupting his trip to visit northern Virginia Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

Ismail Mullah arrived at Dulles International Airport on Sept. 22, but was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Customs officers held him for several hours before he was allowed to board a flight back to South Africa.

Mullah has visited the Islamic Community Center of Northern Virginia for Ramadan for the past three years. He had been expected to lead prayers there following his arrival. Ramadan began in North America last Saturday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Bill Anthony said Mullah “withdrew his application for admission after being talked to by our people.”

About 1,000 people are denied entry into the United States daily for reasons that include inadequate travel documents or because their names appear on a U.S. government watch list.

“This doesn’t preclude him from seeking admission in the future,” Anthony said.

Nasir Chhipa, director of the Islamic Center in Woodbridge, Va., says federal authorities should explain whether Mullah was targeted because of his religion.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says four other foreign imams were denied entry at a Florida airport immediately before the holiday.


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