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Faith in common ground

Youth leader builds bridges between Muslims, Jews

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Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel talks with students after his lecture.

Photo: Matthew Kaplan

College campuses are an ideal place to advance cooperation between Jews, Muslims and other faith communities.

That’s because campuses are “aware of a history and a context beyond the headlines,” said Eboo Patel, leader of Interfaith Youth Core, a national multifaith youth group, who brought his message to UIC Sept. 14.

With a nod toward Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, who introduced his speech, Patel said, “When the chancellor shakes your hand at graduation in two, three or four years, she can be confident that you have learned interfaith literacy.”

A native of Elmhurst and an Urbana-Champaign campus graduate, Patel used the controversy over a mosque proposed near Ground Zero in Manhattan — and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stand in favor of it — to talk about American Jews’ and Muslims’ struggle to coexist.

“Bloomberg didn’t run away, he didn’t hide and he didn’t compromise,” even though one poll showed 60 percent of Americans opposed the mosque, said Patel.

Instead, Bloomberg quoted from a speech by George Washington, who wrote to a Jewish leader that the U.S. government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Patel, a Muslim, is a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

“The hyphen between Jewish-, Christian-, Hindu- and American was not a barrier, it was a bridge,” he said.

“Those things that made you a better Catholic or Buddhist or Sikh — generosity, compassion, service — also made you a better American.”

Indians and Pakistanis for years have been the two peoples closest to nuclear war, Patel said.

“Yet when they move to Chicago, where do they live? On Devon Avenue within the same 15 square blocks.

“We build different relationships in America.”

Bloomberg experienced anti-Semitism as a child, Patel said. His parents weren’t able to buy a home in a Boston suburb. They had to have their Christian lawyer buy it in his name, then sell it to them under the table.

Bloomberg practiced two of the key principles that have built America, Patel said: First, that oppressed people have not stood up for just their own freedom, they stand up for freedom period.

“The civil rights struggle was not called African American rights, but civil rights, because it belonged to everyone,” he said.

The second principle is that when a community’s freedom is threatened, it is incumbent upon its neighbors to come to its defense, he said.

“I think the great danger of the Middle East dominating the conversation is that it advances the false notion that Jews and Muslims can never get along,” Patel said.

“I think the great promise of American is that our society — the Jewish and Muslim doctors saving lives together in our hospitals, the Jewish and Muslim students playing together on high school football teams, the relationship between [Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs] Fatima Shama and Mayor Bloomberg — shows us that such a notion is a lie,” he said.

Patel’s lecture was presented as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture and Event Series.


Below: "We build different relationships in America," Patel said.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

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