The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue spoke at the inaugural Arab Thinkers' Forum

Religious leaders must identify and publicly distance themselves from extremists preaching animosity toward others, a Vatican official told religious and government leaders from across the Arab world.

“Extremism, with its violent tendencies, is incompatible with true religious ethics,” said Comboni Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

Fr Ayuso spoke on January 17 at the first Arab Thinkers’ Forum, a gathering sponsored by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research. Religious leaders, academics and government officials from across the Arab world gathered in Abu Dhabi from January 17-18 to discuss ways to combat terrorism and extremism.

“Extremist tendencies, irrespective of their origin, are actually among the most dangerous threats to world peace and security,” said Fr Ayuso, whose speech was released by the Vatican on January 19.

“Uncompromising and violent policies,” hostility toward those who are different and a refusal to enter into dialogue with others are characteristics of extremism, he said.

“In all religions, there is a treasury of values that can contribute toward building a world of justice, peace, fraternity and prosperity,” he said, which is one reason why a solid religious education is so important.

At the same time, religious education is the best defense against a member falling prey to false teachers who jump into the void with extreme ideas, Fr Ayuso said.

Combating extremism “needs genuine effort by religious leaders and opinion makers to identify those persons who portray false beliefs and behaviors as part of their religious ideology,” he said. And political leaders must support religious leaders in that effort.

Because peace is “a personal and social duty” as well as a gift from God, he said, believers must refute all teaching and preaching of hatred as “unworthy of God or humanity.”