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Sufi Muslim speaker from Pakistan fined, deported after giving talks at Yangon mosques

The scene outside the Tamwe township courthouse on August 1, 2016. Photo: Aung Naing Soe / Coconuts Yangon

August 1, 2016

A traveling Sufi Muslim speaker from Pakistan and his son were convicted of immigration offenses on Monday and deported after giving sermons at mosques in Yangon. 

Authorities say that Zulfiqar Ahmad, 63, breached tourist visa rules by giving religious sermons. His son, Saifullah Ahmad, 29, is traveling with him. 

Here's what happened, according to police. 

Local authorities detained the two at around 3am on July 30 from their rooms at the Chatrium Hotel. 

“They were detained at Dagon Township police station but we didn’t use handcuffs when we took them from place to place,” a police officer said in an interview. “And they will be sent back to their place [country] today by the Immigration Department from Tamwe Township.” 

According to his Facebook account, Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmad is a former engineer and a leading Sufi author and traveling speaker. 

“He regularly travels to more than thirty countries transforming the lives of people all over the world,” his Facebook page says. “Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmad regularly delivers lectures in both English and Urdu across the world. Furthermore, he has written dozens of books many of which have been translated into several languages.” 

One of the books, available on Amazon, speaks of solutions to solving terrorism. 

U Tin Maung Than, a Muslim community leader in Yangon, said that the father was well-known in Sufi circles, and that permission wasn’t needed to allow him to speak. 

“He is not giving speeches on the road, he just gave them in the mosque. So, we don’t need to ask permission from authorities as he was giving religious speeches.” 

Working on a tourist visa is not permitted in Myanmar, but it's unclear if religious activities constitute work. 

Myanmar has a religious visa but it is for "meditation," meaning for those wishing to practice Buddhism, the main religion in the country. 

Attempts to interview an immigration official at the Tamwe township courthouse where the hearing for the two took place on Monday were unsuccessful. 

Tin Maung Than said that those who had listened to the speeches said they contained no content about extremism or terrorism. 

“He just talked purely about religion,” he said. 

A recording of the speeches was not available. 

The Tamwe courthouse was full of police and journalists and members of the media on Monday as the hearing took place. 

Asked if the pair would prefer a fine of about $100 or a year imprisonment, they chose the fine. 

Following the ruling the men were escorted to the airport by a caravan of police cars.

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