Today’s generation crosses borders and breaks barriers of all kinds. Social identities, nationalities, religious affiliations, personal preferences, education and socioeconomic statuses are no longer static constructs by which we are bound. Arguably, we live in a world where the color of our skin or place of worship does not and cannot properly dictate what people can deduce of us. This great progression in our societies produces an immeasurable amount of potential in achieving something that humanity has sought after for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Global peace has long been the dream of the movers and shakers of world history. Today, several organizations work to not only promote peace but actively make it apparent in our communities. Among them is Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, who advocates peace work through interfaith cooperation.
Patel: “Religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.”
Patel’s vision for Interfaith Youth Core started from his own personal experiences. He is by nationality, an American, by faith a Muslim and by culture Indian. In an interview with Youth Action Net, Patel says, “For a long time, growing up, I felt like the different parts of my heritage–India, Islam and America–were kind of at odds with each other. And I felt like if I wanted to be one— if I wanted to be American, I couldn’t be Muslim. If I wanted to be Indian, I couldn’t be American.”
Though stereotypes and social stigmas would suggest that all three identities were separate and cannot innately be cohesive, Patel discovered that differences were not a reason for division but core commonalities served as bridges to understanding and cooperation. Inspired by social justice heroes and interfaith leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, Patel soon found that the commonality in each part of his heritage was the reverence and respect for a unified culture of disparate backgrounds — or pluralism. This revelation started what is now known as the Interfaith Youth Core.
Creating a Culture of Religious Pluralism
The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) movement calls for religious pluralism, cultivating a culture in which people of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to interact and inspire one another, respect differences regardless of religious or non-religious affiliations and behave in the communities consciously for the common good.
Patel believes that this type of world culture for peace is attained through interfaith cooperation and leadership. Interfaith cooperation encourages the celebration of differences and creating trusting relationships upon them. Leadership asks for individuals of the communities to take initiative making opportunities for cooperation.
Taking from his personal journey of discovery, in the same interview with Youth Action Net, Patel says he came to understand that “the different traditions within me were in mutual enrichment not mutual exclusivity.”
What he encourages young adults today to do is to share stories of their personal journeys of self-discovery and identity within their communities. When young people find themselves at the crossroads of seemingly divergent traditions, eventually they also find coherence within them just as he did.
But rather than settling for internal revelation and peace, Patel desires for us to share those stories and create an external culture whereupon persons of different backgrounds can learn of it and find a common value in it. By doing so, no matter what tradition or heritage a person may come from, the common value serves as a bridge that unites peoples rather than divides.
Young Adults Achieve Peace
If someone were to ask whether or not we desire peace, obligingly we nod our heads but our honest opinion may be that world peace is an unachievable ideal for another time in another world. From what we learn of social studies in lecture halls to flashy media campaigns of big shot politicians, all the talk for world peace sometimes becomes white noise.
But when Patel reached out to the young adults of the US, the response was overwhelming and simply unexpected. The young adults of our generation desire peace and have taken upon themselves the responsibility to change the world in a way for everyone to live without discrimination or judgment.
The social justice heroes and interfaith leaders that inspired Patel years ago were all young when they started peace work. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Jane Addams and the likes were in their early twenties when they decided to fight against division and demand for a culture of peace where differences were celebrated and equal.
Currently, the Interfaith Youth Core, headquartered in Chicago and established in 2002, works largely within university campuses, calling for American students to become active agents of change. Thousands of young adults participate in this movement and integrate the agenda of religious pluralism into their daily lives, designing a new social custom of understanding and respect for each extraordinary heritage.