Saturday, October 26, 2013

Youth Lead OKCasady and Mercy Institute meet Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel was at OCU on October 23rd as part of the OCU Distinguished Speakers Series.  Dr. Patel is the Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Core.
Youth LeadOKCasady teens in the audience were Natasha P. Jack P.  and YLOKCasady mentor Carmen Clay.  Other members of Youth LEAD OKC who attended Eboo's lecture were Sophie T. from Classen School and Buthiana Jwayyed and A.R. Tolub from Youth LEADOKC Mercy Institute mentors, and Joan Korenblit from the Respect Diversity Foundation, YLOKC partner organization.

On Sunday, November 6th, from 10:20-noon, Natasha S. and Joan Korenblit, CEO of the Respect Diversity Foundation will be leading an interfaith discussion of Eboo's book, Acts of Faith


interfaith advocate Eboo Patel

Published: October 24, 2013 by Carla Hinton                                                                                      

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, sat down for an interview with me on Wednesday afternoon at Oklahoma City University. Later that evening , Patel (pictured below), a Muslim, gave a much-anticipated public lecture at OCU as part of the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series.

I was very familiar with Patel’s books, particularly “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.”

Prior to his visit to the metro, numerous people in the Oklahoma City area met in study groups  to talk about the themes found in the book.
Here are excerpts of my interview with Patel. I used this interview and comments Patel made during his lecture to write my story in today’s Oklahoman, but I thought it might be interesting, particularly to those who have been involved in interfaith activities in the Oklahoma City area and the interfaith movement in general, to read what else he had to say

Q: What would you say is the status of the interfaith movement in America?
Eboo Patel: I would say it is growing and we ought to be proud of that and we ought to help grow it faster. I have been very inspired by what’s happening here at Oklahoma City University, where, if you look at their religious studies offering, it’s really impressive. There’s not that many campuses that can boast a chair of Islamic studies and here this Methodist college in central Oklahoma has one. It’s something that I will tell my friends on the coast, that they ought to get busy following the lead of Oklahoma City University. I’m very encouraged by the growth of interfaith cooperation nationwide.

Q: What is the greatest challenge to the interfaith movement?
Eboo Patel: I think it is communicating with people that this is not about diluting  their faith, it’s about strengthening their faith because a huge part of  all religious traditions is about the holiness of cooperating with people who are different and serving everybody. And those are the dimensions that we are trying to lift up and we are not at all  trying to de-emphasize the dimensions of disagreement or particularity or difference — we think both are important.

Q: Have there been any surprises for you along the way?
Eboo Patel: Most of the surprises have been really happy surprises, I would say. I wasn’t smart enough to know that Oklahoma City University has this rich (religious studies and interfaith) program and really high ambitions around interfaith cooperation.  I would say  one of the great joys of my job is coming to places like this that are leading the way and providing what I call both a laboratory of  interfaith cooperation and a launching pad for interfaith leaders. It’s a really nice surprise.

Q:  How did your own experiences as a young person shape your decision to create the Interfaith Youth Core?
Eboo Patel:  I tell some of these stories in “Acts of Faith.” One was seeing the ugly side of religion, both in the form of religious prejudice which I witnessed at my high school. A Jewish friend of mine went through some ugly periods of prejudice. Also during the 1990s, there was a lot religious violence at a time when I was coming of age. It was clear to me that religion was powerful and in some ways that power was used destructively.  And then it was also how inspiring religion can be, in the form of Martin Luther King Jr., in the form of Gandhi or in the form of Dorothy Day or in the form of Rumi. It was clear to me as I was coming of age that religion is a powerful force — which way is it going to be mobilized? And there’s are a lot of people making faith a bomb of destruction and I was moved to make faith a bridge of cooperation.

Q: How have people responded to your interfaith message over the years?
Eboo Patel: I would say its twofold. One is how can we be a part of it?  And it’s not just my message. I am one of many people,  but it’s clear to me that the choir is gathered and they  are eager to learn the song and to sing it.  I use the preaching to the choir metaphor positively there. And I would say the second way that people respond is to seek clarity. I think there’s confusion that interfaith cooperation is about diluting faith or it’s only about liberal theology, that it’s only about liberal politics. Interfaith cooperation is fundamentally about the holiness of building relationships between people who have different views on religion.

Q: People are moved and touched by what you say. Why do you think you have struck such a chord with many Americans?
Eboo Patel: There are many people who do that, right? I am fortunate that I am one of those people. I think interfaith cooperation is really inspiring and I would have to work at making it boring, so my job is to try to make interfaith cooperation as inspiring as it inherently is. It is very comforting to me that there is a set of people who are very happy to be in the circle as a result of that.

Q: You wrote about young people being influenced by religion throughout “Acts of Faith.” In one passage you wrote “How does one ordinary young person’s commitment to a religion turn into a suicide mission and another ordinary young person’s commitment to that  to that same faith become an organization devoted to pluralism? The answer, I believe, lies in the influences young people have, the programs and people who shape their religious identities.” Can you expound on this theme?
Eboo Patel: One of the things that I do in this book is I profile very different kinds of religious  people.  Religious extremists, on the one hand, and what I call interfaith heroes or leaders on the other hand. I go back and I say how did Osama bin Laden become Osama Bin Laden?  He wasn’t born a religious extremist.  When he was a young  student (at a school) in Saudi Arabia, a religious extremist was the soccer coach there and basically caught him up in his web so when young Osama was 15-16- 17 years old, he came under the spell of this particular soccer coach. Well, when Martin Luther King Jr. was young, he came under the spell of Benjamin Mays, who was the president of Morehouse College and who was a great admirer of Gandhi and he came under the spell of Mordecai Johnson who was the president of Howard University and who was a great admirer of  Gandhi.
So Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t born an interfaith leader, people influenced him in formative stages. That’s what we’re saying. That’s why we work really exclusively on college campuses. We think college campuses are places that have profound influence over the identities of young people and college campuses can encourage young people to view themselves as interfaith leaders and get practice doing that work.  First of all, get an education doing that and then practice doing it within the college campus. You might see a larger group of people in America we call interfaith leaders.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Eboo Patel: I really do think it’s unique and powerful that this 3,000-student Methodist university has a rich religious studies program that involves the study of other religions and is encouraging students to become interfaith leaders. That’s where the greatest hope of our interfaith cooperation in America is — it’s the campuses who are making decisions that this is going to be a priority area.
(Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)
Carla Hinton
Religion Editor

The founder of an interfaith youth organization said both a reviled terrorist and a beloved American civil rights leader were influenced by religion — one for destruction and another for social change.

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, said Osama bin Laden, the terrorist behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was influenced at a young age by a soccer coach who was an Islamic extremist. Patel said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by contrast, drew heavily from his Baptist upbringing and the influences of two prominent university presidents who spoke often of the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, for the themes of peaceful resistance that undergirded the U.S. civil rights movement King led.
Wednesday, during an interview with The Oklahoman, Patel said these are examples of what happens when people use faith as “bombs of destruction” while others build “bridges of cooperation.”
“It was clear to me that religion was powerful and in some ways that power was used destructively,” Patel said during his visit to Oklahoma City University, 2501 N Blackwelder. “And then, I found how inspiring religion can be, in the form of Martin Luther King Jr., in the form of Gandhi, in the form of Dorothy Day or in the form of Rumi.”
Patel, a Muslim, drew a crowd of about 800 people to OCU's Freede Center. The noted author of the books “Acts of Faith” and “Sacred Ground,” gave his presentation as part of the United Methodist-affiliated school's Distinguished Speaker Series. His visit was sponsored by OCU and the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma.
Patel said there is an “ugly side of religion” and also an inspirational side that serves as a catalyst for good. He said his interest in encouraging young people to create meaningful interfaith relationships and cooperation was spurred to combat that ugliness and nurture the inspirational aspect.
Wednesday, Patel said he was encouraged to see that OCU leaders make interfaith awareness a priority on campus. He lauded the college for having an Islamic Studies program and for its activities designed to nurture interfaith dialogue and interfaith leaders among students.
He spoke to the audience about the power of pluralism in both the tradition of America and the tradition of Islam.
Patel said the notion that people from a range of faith traditions should respect the different faith traditions of others dates back to the nation's Founding Fathers — Washington, Jefferson — among them. He said over the years, religious pluralism has been championed by many others in America such as President James Madison, a Holocaust survivor who marched with King, President George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama in the present day.
By the same token, he said religious pluralism has a long and exalted history in the tradition of Islam and other faith traditions as well.
“There is a tradition, a theology of interfaith cooperation, in a sense that partnering with people who are different from us is not just a civic good — it is a sacred good,” Patel said.
He shared the example of the Christian parable of the good Samaritan chronicled in the Bible. He said the Samaritans were people who prayed in a different temple than the Jewish community of Jesus and yet Jesus told people to pattern themselves after the good Samaritan's model of offering aid to someone who is different.
He said there is often confusion that interfaith cooperation is about “diluting faith or it's only about liberal theology, liberal politics, but interfaith cooperation is fundamentally about the holiness of building relationships between people who have different views on religion.”
Patel is a member of President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and was named one of America's Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Reports. In anticipation of his visit, OCU and the Interfaith Alliance helped nurture several interfaith book study groups around the metro area to encourage people to read his book “Acts of Faith” together.