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March 5th, 2009
01:38 PM ET

India, the aspiring pluralistic democracy

Eboo Patel
Washington Post
Interfaith Youth Core

In the middle of the Q and A section of my talk on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in this heartland city of Bhopal, a student from the local technical college stood up and said, "Sir, I have prepared a 15-minute lecture on Martin Luther King Jr. that I would like to read to you. Sir, would you like to hear it?"

He wasn't kooky activist, he wasn't kidding and no one in the audience laughed at him. He is part of middle India, earnest and aspirational India, ready to-do-whatever-it-takes-to-make-it India. After the program was over, he ran up to me excitedly and thrust the text into my hands. It was written in a schoolboy's cursive, in blue ballpoint pen. "I don't want to take your only copy," I told him. "Don't worry, sir, I have memorized the speech." I don't doubt it.

I'm on a brief speaking tour of India sponsored by the U.S. State Department, using the legacy of King and Gandhi as a springboard to explain why the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest should lead the world on the critical issue of interfaith cooperation.

If there is one term that describes contemporary India, it is aspiration. What is particularly refreshing to me is to watch that striving not just in India's economy, but also in other parts of its democracy.

The Chair of the country's first journalism department told me that there are somewhere between 35,000-40,000 newspapers in India - about a thousand of them in English - with new ones sprouting up all the time.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • India • Religion
February 20th, 2009
11:18 AM ET

US Reaching Out to the Muslim World

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
The Washington Post

A few weeks ago, Obama made a big statement by conducting his first interview after taking office with Al-Arabiya, an Arab TV network. In the interview, he said: "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy...But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions."

And this is the part that I hung on to – Obama's desire to reach out to the Muslim world is not a rhetorical gesture, but a concrete initiative. And he's making it happen already.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Jakarta in Indonesia as part of an effort to honor the hard-won democracy of the country and to include the oft-neglected region of Southeast Asia. She said: "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women's rights can coexist, go to Indonesia."

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Filed under: Eboo Patel • Islam
February 9th, 2009
11:33 AM ET

World Leaders and Interfaith Cooperation

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Eboo Patel
The Washington Post

It was striking to hear the similarities in the speeches that Tony Blair and Barack Obama gave at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. They each told their personal stories of growing up in nonbeliever households and finding their way to faith. They each quoted "Golden Rule" type scriptures from different faiths. They each spoke more of faith-inspired service to the world than the inner life of prayer and the soul. And they talked about interfaith cooperation as an antidote to religious extremism.

As Blair said, "If faith becomes the property of extremists, it will originate discord. But if, by contrast, different faiths can reach out to and have knowledge of one another, then instead of being reactionary, religious faith can be a force for progress."

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Filed under: Eboo Patel • Raw Politics • Religion
February 6th, 2009
06:59 PM ET

For President Obama, faith counts

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

President Obama announced Thursday that he is changing the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core

Two things struck me about President Obama’s Faith-based office yesterday: this matters to him, and he expects it to get things done.

I’ve been asked to serve on the Advisory Council for the Office , and had the honor of being part of a 30 minute Oval Office meeting with the President yesterday. He set out our charge pretty quickly: cooperate to serve others during this time of need in America, and be a positive example of interfaith engagement in a world torn by religious conflict. He spoke about the importance of engaging talented young people, of reaching out to the Muslim world, of working across religious diversity and also the secular / faith divide. The focus isn’t so much what happens in churches, synagogues and mosques – it’s what all those Christians, Jews and Muslims do in the world together.

FULL POST


Filed under: Eboo Patel • Faith • President Barack Obama • Raw Politics
February 2nd, 2009
01:48 PM ET

Muslims speaking up for Islam and peace

Nafees Syed, a Muslim college student, says President Obama's early words and actions send a powerful, positive signal to Muslims.

Nafees Syed, a Muslim college student, says President Obama's early words and actions send a powerful, positive signal to Muslims.

Eboo Patel
Washington Post

Many things were lost on 9/11 – three thousand lives, a nation's innocence and the fiction within the American Muslim community that it could live in this country without having to tell the broader society much about its traditions (the African-American Muslim community is an important exception to this).

After getting over the shock of the sheer horror of 9/11, after mourning the victims of the attacks, American Muslims realized that Osama bin Laden had just taught Americans his version of Islam 101. And because Americans were largely ignorant of this 1400-year-old faith of over a billion people, many believed it. 9/11 taught American Muslims a crucial lesson: if there is a vacuum out there about something important, and you don't fill it, someone else will.

To their credit, Muslims in America and elsewhere have been very busy since 9/11, as an important new report from the United States Institute of Peace highlights. It states, "Violent extremists are on one edge of the Muslim community, but they are counterbalanced by a growing movement of Muslim peacemakers."

The paper first and foremost debunks the falsehood that Muslim leaders have not spoken out against terrorism, pointing out that 13 American Muslim organizations issued a statement immediately after 9/11 that said: "Holding to the ideals of both our religion and our country, we condemn all forms of terrorism, and confirm the need for perpetrators of any such acts of violence to be brought to justice." It lists several other such statements from Muslim organizations around the world.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Eboo Patel • Islam • Religion
January 19th, 2009
09:21 AM ET

Religious diversity: King's Dream and Obama's Challenge

Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby
Interfaith YouthCore

As we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. today, we look forward to tomorrow's historic inauguration. And as this inauguration realizes an important dimension of King's dream about racial diversity and equality, it is another dimension of America's multiculturalism that has caused the most controversy for the Obama team: religion.

Americans may be surprised to learn that, just as King's dream has guided Obama regarding matters of race, so has his vision provided a great deal of inspiration regarding religious diversity.

The frenzy surrounding prayer at President Obama's inauguration events doesn't surprise us. At last count, an openly gay Bishop, a prominent Evangelical preacher, a white female Muslim, and three Rabbis from different branches of Judaism will each be offering prayers over the next few days.

FULL POST

December 17th, 2008
04:19 PM ET

Finding a connection to Judaism during the Eid

Sandra Samuel holds Moshe Holtzberg at the Mumbai airport in India on their way to Israel on December 1.

Sandra Samuel holds Moshe Holtzberg at the Mumbai airport in India on their way to Israel on December 1.

Eboo Patel
Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core

He reminds me of my son.

That was my first thought when I saw the picture of Moshe Holtzberg — 2 years old, dark eyes, full lips — wearing a green shirt, clutching an orange ball and wailing "Dada."

My almost-2-year-old son just learned how to say "Dada." He walks around the house and claps his hands and repeats "Dada" in his own peculiar toddler rhythm. When I leave for work in the morning, he sometimes reaches for me and wails "Dada" with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

But not like Moshe's sadness. His parents are gone to God. They are not coming back. They were ripped from Moshe by terrorists who perversely believed that Islam is a totalitarian faith, a faith defined by destroying diversity. Mumbai, the city they attacked, is defined by its diversity — a masala of cultures that included Moshe's family of Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn.

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Filed under: Eboo Patel • Islam • Religion
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