Interfaith leader Eboo Patel speaks at USU

LOGAN – Eboo Patel is the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization dedicated to helping people from different faiths understand each other and work together. On Thursday evening Patel delivered a message in the Kent Concert Hall on USU’s campus.

Patel encouraged those in attendance to learn and gain appreciation from the values they see in other traditions, to learn from those values in order to deepen their roots in their own traditions and to work together with other faiths.

Patel shared experiences from his youth in Chicago where the values of other faiths strengthened his own roots. Patel is, and grew up, a Muslim. In high school he had a girlfriend who was a Latter-day Saint. Patel said that one day his girlfriend drew a stick figure and a circle around it that encompassed about 92 percent of it.

“She pointed at the stick figure and she said, ‘That’s me,’” he said. “And she pointed at the circle and she said, ‘Those are the areas you’re not going to touch.’

“That was probably my first encounter with somebody from a different religion who I deeply admired,” he said. “In fact deeply loved and who was exemplifying a value that is held both in the LDS tradition and in Islam in a way that I probably would not have had the discipline to exemplify myself.”

He then told of an experience that happened a few years later. Patel was studying Buddhism and was considering becoming a Buddhist himself. He woke up at his grandmother’s home and saw a woman he didn’t recognize. After asking his grandmother about her he learned she was a victim of abuse and that his grandmother was taking care of her and keeping her safe. This wasn’t the first person his grandmother had taken care of. It was something she had been doing for nearly 50 years. Patel asked her why she kept bringing people in.

“She looked at me as if I was a little child,” he said. “She was like, ‘I’m Muslim. This is what we do.’ I thought to myself, ‘For all these months I’ve been entranced by the compassion in Buddhism, and right in my family was this woman who embodied compassion from Islam. And maybe, I ought to stop having an adolescent discrimination against the familiar and go back and revisit my own tradition.’”

It was the lessons of Islamic spiritual discipline from his Mormon girlfriend and the Buddhist compassion qualities he saw in his Muslim grandmother that inspired him to become an interfaith leader.

Those are the same types of experiences Patel encouraged the audience to use to strengthen their values in their own faith.

Patel reminded the audience of the great things that can be accomplished between faiths. He said that in 1999 he was in South Africa and heard Nelson Mandela speak. According to Patel, Mandela told the crowd he would still be in prison if it weren’t for the Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religions fighting together against apartheid. Patel said that Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian, was inspired by Gandhi to use non-violent protests in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“What will our grandchildren say of what we of different religions do together today?” Patel said. “That is the question we answer now in discussion and most importantly tomorrow in action.”

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