The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that it deplored the decision and accused the government of caving in to “unreasonable demands spearheaded by the Tory leader”.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the MCB, said that Dr al-Qaradawi enjoyed respect as a scholar throughout the Muslim world.
“I am afraid this decision will send the wrong message to Muslims everywhere about the state of British society and culture,” he said.
“Britain has had a long and established tradition of free speech, debate and intellectual pursuit. These principles are worth defending, especially if we would like to see them spread throughout the world.”
The British Muslim Initiative (BMI) described the decision to bar al-Qaradawi, an “eminent scholar”, as “an unwarranted insult to British Muslims”.
Muhammad Sawalha, the BMI president, said: “We would have to go as far back as the medieval age when scholars were hounded and vilified in order to find a similar retrograde decision.”
The 81-year-old Egyptian-born preacher is now based in Qatar and makes regular appearances on al-Jazeera television, clad in white robes, where he denounces anti-Muslim sentiment in the European media.
Sources close to Dr al- Qaradawi said that his visa application had had support within the Home and Foreign Offices. “But the Zionist lobby placed huge pressures to block the visa application and Prime Minister Gordon Brown eventually backed that position,” they added.
It is understood that Dr al-Qaradawi, who is banned from entering the United States, applied for a medical visa almost a year ago. In August he was hospitalised for a stomach ulcer, and in November he was treated for a cracked vertebra apparently caused by a slipped disc.
In a fax from the British embassy in Doha, his application was refused, reportedly citing Article 41 of the United Nations charter, which relates to threats to peace and security.
The cleric last visited the UK in 2004, where he was welcomed by Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, and chaired the annual meeting of the European Council of Fatwa and Research at London’s City Hall.
His visit prompted protests from Jewish groups and gay people, who regard him as anti-Semitic and homophobic. He has called for the death penalty for homosexuality and the destruction of the state of Israel.
In the same year, the cleric defended suicide attacks on Israelis during a BBC interview, saying: “It’s not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God.” He added that it did not matter if women and children were the victims of such attacks.
The cleric is also said to preach that husbands should beat disobedient wives.
In 2006 Dr al-Qaradawi was told that he would be granted a visa to enter Britain for a meeting in Manchester, with the authorisation of Charles Clarke, the then Home Secretary, but in the event he did not attend.
Last week Mr Cameron clashed with Gordon Brown in the Commons over Dr al-Qaradawi, as he described him as “dangerous and divisive”, and called on the Government not to let him into the country.
“Two months ago I identified and named specifically in this house a number of preachers of hate who should not be allowed into this country,” said Mr Cameron.
“Will you confirm that the Government has accepted this as well and won’t be allowing Yusuf al-Qaradawi into Britain – yes or no?”
Mr Brown refused to issue a snap decision on the visa application, saying it would be announced “very soon” and insisting that proper judicial processes had to be followed.
To Tory jeers, Mr Brown replied: “In 2006 a decision was made not to exclude him. We are looking at that again. He has applied to come into this country. A decision will be made in due course. It has to go through the proper judicial processes. But he has not been allowed into this country at this stage.”
Today David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, welcomed the visa ruling. “Not before time the Government has finally acted after pressure from David Cameron,” he said.
“The Government’s approach to preachers of hate has been at best timid and at worst downright useless. Now it is time for them to take a robust approach across the board.”