South African cleric Shaykh Fakhruddin Owaisi al-Madani said extremism was the first step to violence and was often driven by foreign speakers.
The chair of the Council of Sunni Imams in Cape Town said this happened in South Africa and, he feared, was at risk of happening here.
He was in Dublin to back an Anti-Extremism Declaration, drawn up by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council (IMPIC), outlining five principles foreign speakers agree to comply with.
Shaykh al-Madani, the first to sign the declaration, was speaking at an event organised by IMPIC and TCD Irish School of Ecumenics, attended by many foreign dignitaries.
They included US ambassador Kevin O’Malley, Belgium ambassador Philippe Ronald, Pakistan ambassador Syed Rizwan, Iran ambassador Javad Kachoueian, and French counsellor Philippe Ray.
Shaykh al-Madani said the Muslim community was “very well integrated” in South African society, with members present at the highest levels of politics, the courts, and sport.
However, he said that, “in the last few years”, that has changed and “some extremist elements have come from elsewhere”.
This has resulted in Muslims youths joining Islamic State (IS), some of whom have since come back.
“That was a wake-up call for us,” he said, adding: “Do not think your [Irish] society is immune.”
The Shaykh, who is also head of the department of religious studies at the International Peace College in Cape town, said the State needed to stop speakers coming to the country now.
“We need prevention, it is better than cure,” he said.
On the declaration, he said: “It is a Muslim initiative to protect the Muslim community. I hope to see the Irish government respond to this. I don’t want you to respond when it is too late.”
He said that there were “preachers of hate in Islam” who targeted non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
“They are a common enemy,” he said, adding that the first step to violence was extremism.
“You can’t say we don’t want the violence but not do anything about extremism.”
He said the silent Muslim majority “can’t remain silent anymore”.
IMPIC chairman Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, head imam of the al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Dublin, said that more than 200 innocent people had been killed recently by various Islamic extremist groups in Brussels, Lahore, Baghdad, Istanbul and Ankara.
“These attacks are happening in the name of my religion,” he said. “They are distorting the teachings of Islam. We cannot stay silent any more.”
He said there were many factors feeding Islamic extremism: Political, social, and religious.
He said the extremists adopt a “literal interpretation” of the Koran, abandoning the 14 centuries of scientific interpretation.
He asked the Department of Justice to include the declaration in the granting of visas to foreign speakers.
US ambassador Kevin O’Malley praised the work of the two imams for bringing a “mature discussion to a difficult set of issues”.