Religious institutions that fail to combat extremism and the educational systems that fail to focus on cross-cultural communication skills must also take the blame, he said.
Al-Issa was speaking on the theme “Tackling Violence Committed in the Name of Religion” at a conference organized by the British Foreign Office and attended by religious and political leaders from around the world.
In his speech, Al-Issa pointed out that “the world today suffers from the continuation of violence committed in the name of religion and the poor presence of influential religious and intellectual leaders.”
He added: “Denunciation, condemnation, and declaring having nothing to do with extremism, violence, and terrorism are not enough for dealing with violence committed in the name of religion.
“What matters is what we have done to rid the world of these epidemics, which are now using deceptive methods of which we must be aware.”
Speaking of the shared responsibility for extremism, Al-Issa stressed that “every time violence in the name of religion was found, it was a result of the neglect of religious minds. Religious programs must focus more on instilling moral and behavioral values, promoting respect for diversity and differences, and strengthening the values of peace, love, and cooperation.”
He continued: “Throughout history, religious wars have been waged for political ambitions and as a result of sectarian cleansing and cultural hegemony, which is hostile to other religions, cultures, and civilizations, while many sensible religious, intellectual, and political leaders have been either not playing any role at all or playing a weak role.
“If these episodes of violence in the name of religion were not combated using a greater force, which is religious and intellectual activities, they will grow, multiply, and spread.
“Most of this violence is based on an exclusionary, hate-filled ideology that does not wish to coexist with those who do not believe in the same ideas, and this mental imbalance stems from unhealthy social, educational, intellectual, and political roots.”
Al-Issa believes it is courageous of religious leaders to hold themselves accountable for any ideological disorder that hides behind religion.
“Only sensible people are capable of accepting differences and diversity, as well as understanding the values of religions,” he added, “The more honest, determined, and capable we are, the more likely we are to defeat extremism and help peace and harmony prevail in this world.”
He continued: “We realize that the use of hard power in the face of ideologies and cultures often results in financial and moral losses, in addition to further deepening the conflict and its complexity. Wise people believe in soft power because ideologies can only be faced with ideologies, and this kind of power can uproot the corrupt plant as a whole. History has taught us an unforgettable lesson in this.”
Al-Issa pointed out that violence in the name of religion expanded only in areas where extremist thoughts were not taken seriously — no matter the pretext: “Extremist ideologies sometimes lead to violence, and violence may lead to terrorism in ever-expanding episodes,” he added.
Al-Issa explained that the MWL, a global Islamic institution headquartered in Makkah, acts as a reference for all Muslims. It has played an important role in countering extremist ideologies by developing many programs and initiatives as well as partnering with many religious bodies around the world — most recently, the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.
The MWL secretary-general stressed that, throughout history, political agendas have formed alliances with those who exploit religion in their favor because it is easy and most powerful to use religion as a tool for influencing the masses.
He believes fighting extremism nowadays is tougher than ever owing to the creation of social media platforms, which made sending messages to the masses around the world and brainwashing them easy.
Al-Issa concluded by urging everyone to realize the magnitude of the dangers facing the world. “We must work together to spread the cultures of civilized communication, love, respect, diversity, tolerance and coexistence,” he said, “Hate speech must be combated with great determination.”