Faith Leaders Unite Against Religious Extremism

A “clash of extremisms” is currently playing out around the world, with violent religious fundamentalists and a subsequent right-wing backlash threatening to upset the fabric of many societies. This was one of the key points during an event on July 1 at the International Peace Institute’s MENA office, which brought together religious leaders representing more than 11 faiths in Bahrain—including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism—to discuss the growing problem.

The aim was to consolidate a stance against acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of religion. Participants stressed the importance of education and their responsibility to spread the true values of their scriptures towards preventing violent extremism, and called for mutual respect, tolerance, dialogue, and a culture of peace.

In an address delivered by IPI MENA Director Nejib Friji, IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen reflected on recent cases of religion-inspired terrorism, including attacks in Tunisia, Egypt, Kuwait, and the southern United States.

He said collective effort is required to defeat the phenomenon, and military responses are only one part of the equation.

“A more comprehensive approach is needed which encompasses social and economic development and, above all, education,” Mr. Rød-Larsen said. “We need to create a sensible and credible counternarrative to neutralize extremist voices and counter radicalization.

“The role of youth should not be overlooked: they have an important role to play and offer a unique opportunity to provide innovative solutions to challenging problems. There is a need for an effective deep-rooted multilateral strategy to counter and prevent violent extremism.”

He said the phenomenon of religious extremism must also be diagnosed correctly, including its roots in the return of totalitarian ideologies.

“A ‘clash of extremisms’ is indeed being played out in many parts of the globe resulting in a serious uncertainty,” Mr. Rød-Larsen said. “Even more importantly, extremists of all kinds believe that terrorism is not only legitimate in order to reach that goal, it is an essential and necessary means to reach that goal.”

Forum participants read segments of their religious texts and elaborated on the need to further educate and preach to their communities on fighting terrorism and extremism.

Sushil Muljimal, leader of the Manama Hindu Temple in Bahrain, observed that religious extremists did not typically engage in dialogue and reiterated the importance of interfaith discussions, even with these individuals and groups.

“If you have differences, come to the table and talk. Don’t impose your ideology,” he said.

Mr. Friji praised the leaders in attendance for swiftly responding to IPI’s call to urgently address the current challenges.

He noted the event coincided with the middle of Ramadan and hoped that the occasion would augur well for the future of Islamic communities currently suffering from extreme violence falsely perpetrated in the name of their religion.

Mr. Friji closed by expressing his hope for the future and a desire to maintain the momentum that has united religions in the desire to work toward peace.

At the end of the meeting, the participants adopted the declaration, “Preventing Violent Extremism:  Call for Mutual Respect, Tolerance, Dialogue and a Culture of Peace.”

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