Living Peace Series Hosts Eboo Patel

In a capacity-filled Pacific Ballroom of UCI’s Student Center last Tuesday night, Eboo Patel inspired and entertained students, faculty and guests through an evening of thought-provoking discussion about peace through interfaith connections.

The founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, Patel seeks to turn the religious and ideological differences between those of different backgrounds into platforms for positive, meaningful relationships instead of the usual barriers of division that they create.

As a world-renowned speaker on interfaith cooperation and engagement, Patel is the latest to join the list of highly distinguished guests in UC Irvine’s Living Peace series, which have included the likes of the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall, and Sir Richard Branson. The Living Peace Series, which is co-sponsored by the Center for Living Peace, invites international speakers whom are committed to making the world a healthy, sustainable, and compassionate place to discuss how they are enacting change and empower audience members in attendance to do so as well.

Through a series of historical anecdotes featuring our nation’s founding fathers and early leaders, Patel discussed the set of values that defines our national identity today. He revealed that Thomas Jefferson owned a Koran and that Benjamin Franklin built a hall in Philadelphia that featured a pulpit open to a preacher from any faith. It was apparent that the concept of interfaith cooperation has been a foundation of America’s core set of values since the beginning, according to Patel.

“We’re the first nation to believe that people from different backgrounds, different races, different nations, people who pray to God in different ways, people who don’t pray to God at all, can come together to build a country. That is a fascinating fact.” marveled Patel, who was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report in 2009.

When he moved on to the present state of affairs in America, Patel emphasized the relevance of religion, noting how our rates of attendance in places of worship and growth of religion in secular student organizations ranks as the highest among countries in the west. Turning his focus to the eastern countries of the world, the Interfaith Youth Core president lamented the religious conflicts that pervades the globe, the same conflicts that have caused many diaspora groups to take refuge with the United States.

“So here is the question my fellow Americans. Is the United States going to be simply an extension of the theatre of religious wars of elsewhere?” challenged Patel. “Or are we going to build something different here? Something new?”

Patel warned that the most dangerous aspect of society today is the notion that people of different faiths are always bound to inevitably fight.

“What else do we think diversity is?” asked Patel, “Except the sense that we are going to have profound differences on fundamental things and we are going to have to figure out to be a healthy and functional society anyway.”

Patel openly wondered what America would be like if every other campus in the nation placed an equal amount of focus on interfaith cooperation.

When approached with a closed mind, religion can become a bunker of isolation and a barrier of division. Contrarily, with an open mind, religion can serve as a bridge of cooperation, linking together those who orient around religion differently. The only thing needed is for those who are concerned to take a proactive approach in promoting tolerance and respect, according to Patel.

“Bridges don’t fall from the sky, and they don’t rise from the ground,”  Patel said.

“People build bridges, good doesn’t just happen — people make good happen.”