Breakout Session “Religious Leaders and Violent Extremism: The Challenges of Prevention”

Baku, April 26, AZERTAC

The session addressed the necessity for religious leaders to adapt to modern realities, not only on a substantive level, but also on the form, through communication, training and education programs, in order to reach out to people vulnerable to the attraction of violent extremism. The participants explored the role that religious leaders must play in fighting religious prejudice, providing counter-narrative to the misuse of religion and hate speech, which can lead to polarization and extremism.

The session was moderated by William Vendley, Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

Speakers included Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade, chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office, Fatemeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, Secretary-General of Women's Solidarity Association of Iran, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, Kamal Boraiqa Abdelsalam, Professor, Al-Azhar University. The session was also addressed by heads of religious communities in Azerbaijan, who highlighted the government’s work to preserve and promote religious tolerance and dialogue among cultures and ethnicities in the country.

Key questions raised at the session included What is the current role of religious leaders in preventing violent extremism? Who are they? And are they involved in effective measures to counter terrorism?; What kind of research and action programs could be implemented in collaboration with religious leaders to avoid the spread of radicalization and violent extremism, including in prisons?; Should the governments be hiring prison chaplains from all faiths and develop clear frameworks for these actions? How to empower faith and community leaders who are committed to prevent violent terrorism? How to reform the message and image of religious leaders in order to reach out and inspire the youth?; How do they counteract the destructive messages of extremists with counter narratives?; How do they correct unfair and inaccurate perceptions of religion and encourage critical understanding?; How do religious leaders contribute to build peaceful and inclusive societies?.

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