Award winning author promotes religious tolerance

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core and University alumnus, received recognition as this year’s “One Book, One Campus” selection and spoke at the Illini Union on Monday.

The distinction is given to writers who address current affairs and conflicts, and Patel was recognized for his book “Acts of Faith,” a personal account of his religious identity. Previous “One Book, One Campus” selections include President Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.”

In his lecture, Patel said revelations about the effect young people can have on world affairs helped him found the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization dedicated to fueling youths’ potential for being interfaith leaders. He referenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi as examples of exemplary interfaith leaders.

“An interfaith leader must be good at changing the conversation,” Patel said. “They find what it is in their religion that can inspire them to serve others.”

Patel himself indicated that he has been inspired to serve others. He said he is working with the Obama administration’s new Faith Advisory Council, which aims to aid communities of all faiths and to start projects for community building.

Bansari Patel, sophomore in DGS, said she looked forward to hearing what Patel was going to share about his peronal opinions and experiences as an American Muslim.

She added that his lecture had particular significance because she could relate to the obstacles faced in establishing her identity.

“I thought it was relevant to me because there is so much confusion growing up in this society as an American Muslim or, in my case, an American Hindu,” Bansari said.

Mohammad Khalil, assistant professor of religious studies, said what is also important about Patel’s message is how it encourages people of different religious backgrounds to cooperate and be tolerant of each other to make progress.

“In a post-9/11 society, without fully understanding Islam and other religions, we’re not going to make progress,” Khalil said.

Khalil added that Patel’s discussion about creating relationships and dialogue between people of different faiths applies to all religions in general, not just Islam.

He said that people of all religions will have good and bad representatives of their faith and that it is important to distinguish between these kinds of people to create a better understanding between faiths.

“I think most everybody can understand that ultimately everyone is born the same way and is therefore the same,” Khalil said. “And it is important to recognize that there are going to be bad apples as well as good ones.”

About the journey of the typical American Muslim, Khalil said Patel’s story is one that highlights similar conflicts that many American Muslims face. But he added that his own story as a Muslim in general deviates from Patel’s.

“I can appreciate his story,” Khalil said. “But ultimately, I understand that the story is unique to him. We have different routes, but there are parts of his story that draw upon what many say is their story in general.”