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“The Talking Cure” and Interfaith Dialogue

From America Magazine

The subject line of the e-mail read: “Ten reasons Muslims can’t be Americans.” The young Christian woman, who had received the chain message from a fellow member of a church committee, knew the content of the e-mail was full of lies. She chose to respond—kindly, respectfully—with the truth. As she typed her reply she drew on her experience working at the Interfaith Youth Core. As an intern with the organization she collaborated with Muslims on a daily basis, befriended Muslims, and participated in dialogue and service with them. She clicked “send” and hoped for the best.

The response from her fellow committee members was not as kind, however. Many were angered by her response and told her so. The young woman now attends a different church, but she doesn’t regret her actions.

The courage and commitment to truth displayed by the young woman is the kind Eboo Patel hoped to foster when he co-founded the Interfaith Youth Core in 1998, at the age of 22. The Core—spelled this way to represent its place at the center of a larger movement—works to provide the tools and support college students need to become leaders in interreligious dialogue. These leaders, Patel says, are young men and women “who have the framework, the knowledge base and the skill set to bring people from different religions together to build understanding and cooperation.” In light of the ongoing and much-publicized controversy surrounding Park51, the proposed Islamic center a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, as well as the anti-Islam protests popping up in cities across the country, these skills are especially needed today.

Click here to read the entire article.

California School Hopes to Be First Accredited Muslim College in U.S.

From CNN

As controversy swirls around a proposed Islamic center near New York City’s ground zero and a handful of other mosque projects around the country, students will arrive this week at a California school that is aiming to become the country’s first accredited Muslim college.

Zaytuna College hopes to the train a generation of Islamic clerics and professionals in a Western Islamic tradition that school officials say is ill understood by many of the foreign-born imams currently working in the United States.

“There’s a triumphalist view that’s not conducive to the type of religion we need to see,” said Hamza Yusuf, chairman of Zaytuna’s trustees board, describing many foreign-born imams. “American Muslims can help change a lot of the Muslim world to create the potential for conviviality.”

The school, located in Berkeley, will offer just two degrees – Arabic, and a combined Islamic law and theology major – when it opens its doors Monday to the 15 students in its first freshmen class. The class includes eight women and seven men.

But its leaders say they plan to expand to around 150 students in the school’s first four years and that they want to eventually train young people for careers in U.S. law, journalism, academia, and other fields.

First year tuition is $11,000 plus room and board, according to the school.

The school has yet to generate much controversy, but Yusuf, a co-founder who is the public face of the school, said he expects such criticism will come.

“I think the American people that are criticizing the ground zero mosque… are also criticizing us,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon on Sunday. “It’s par for the course right now. Islam is an acceptable target. To be prejudicial towards Islam is politically correct.”

But experts on American Islam say that the strain of modernist, mystical Islam espoused by Yusuf, which draws on Sufi traditions, might be more controversial among conservative Muslims.

“The young look up to Hamza almost as a sort of pop star,” said Akbar Ahmed, an American University professor who has just completed a nationwide study of Muslims in the America.

“But he has expressed discomfort with some of the things that immigrant Muslims do and say,” Ahmed said, “and many of the literalists see people like him as compromised or as having crossed over.”

Ahmed said the failure of many foreign-born imams to relate to a younger generation on issues such as drugs and sex has provoked some Muslim young people to seek guidance from radicals abroad, feeding the phenomenon of homegrown American terrorism.

Zaytuna’s website echoes that concern.

“There are very few Muslim scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of a rapidly expanding Muslim community in the West,” the site says. “…much of our younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and from religious culture.”

Yusuf said he expected some criticism from fellow Muslims. “This is a growing pain for our community but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Click here to read the entire article.

The Stranger as Neighbor

From Sojourners Magazine

By Eboo Patel

When David Fraccaro preached his first sermon to his first congregation—a small United Church of Christ flock in New Jersey—a man got up halfway through and walked out. Needless to say, that was not the reaction this son of a UCC minister hoped for.

David hadn’t tried to go for shock value. He didn’t preach fire and brimstone, or address sexual promiscuity, or lay out a bold plan to transform the church.
The man walked out because David told stories of his work visiting detained immigrants and asylum seekers held in a New Jersey detention center, one of 400 around the country. David preached of the men and women he had met from Somalia and Tibet, the Ivory Coast and Kashmir, who were awaiting a judicial decision on their immigration/asylum status. He shared that he believed theologically these were the strangers Jesus spoke of.
For David, this understanding of the stranger as neighbor comes out of a deeply rooted theology that all humans are put on earth as pilgrims on the same journey. Because of this, he refers to immigrants as undocumented rather than illegal—because God would never make it illegal for one of God’s children to walk as equal with the others. For him, the immigration debate isn’t just politics: It’s faith.
Sitting in that detention center, David’s new friends were treated as criminals, not neighbors—stripped of their possessions, forced to wear prison uniforms, separated from him by a thick pane of glass. David, looking through a religious lens, saw them as equals. And as David got to know the other people visiting the detainees, he learned that they were nurses, businesspeople, students, artists, and scientists. But they were also Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and secularists—and though they held diverse beliefs, they were there out of theological convictions as well.
David began to see the theology of “stranger as neighbor” in other faiths. He recognized stories of migration in scriptures from diverse traditions, from the flight out of Egypt for Jews to the Hijra from Mecca to Medina for Muslims. He learned that Americans of diverse faiths had particular attachment to migration stories—either they or their ancestors had immigrated here, after all. He learned about how these traditions have changed based on the migration of populations, developments that continue to evolve in our increasingly globalized 21st century. He saw that he shared with his fellow visitors from different faiths the common value of respect for human life.

Click here to read the entire article.

August 16th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Religion Today: Bomb, Barrier, or Bridge?

From The Huffington Post

By Eboo Patel

Once considered a ceremonial activity reserved for leaders of religious denominations or experts in theology, interfaith cooperation is fast becoming a movement focused on social impact that involves everyone.

In the twenty-first century, faith can be a bomb of destruction, a barrier of division or a bridge of cooperation.

The stories of religion as a bomb of destruction are on the front pages of the newspaper every morning. The suicide attacks in Baghdad and Kabul are examples of religion as a bomb of destruction, as is the violent tension between faith groups from Northern Ireland to Nigeria.

Those erecting the barriers of religious division are less dramatic but still dangerous. Their work moves a diverse society in the direction of conflict instead of cooperation. The ‘new atheists’ like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens build barriers by claiming all religious believers are poisoned and intent on poisoning others. Those who hold with Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations build barriers by advancing the idea that different religions are inherently and inevitably at odds with one another. Those who draw a straight line between the violent actions of a few extremists and an entire religion build barriers by telling people that every Muslim — their neighbor, their taxi driver, their friend from the PTA — is a potential enemy.

The materials that make up the bombs of destruction and the barriers of division are not just physical; they are also theological and intellectual. They include advancing theologies that require believers to suffocate or marginalize those who are different; emphasizing the stories of conflict between religious communities instead of the stories of cooperation; holding up the worst examples of the other community and saying that these examples define the whole group; and paying heightened attention to the differences between groups while proclaiming that there is no possibility of common ground.

The forces building bombs and barriers are strong. If the idea of faith as a bridge of cooperation is to win out, interfaith work has to expand from a small niche of enthusiasts to a social norm that involves everyone. Indeed, just as it is now status quo for universities, cities, civic groups and houses of worship to “go green,” so should it be the new norm for these entities to build bridges of interfaith cooperation.

President Obama knows the potential impact of interfaith cooperation, not just as a policymaker but also from his personal history. As a young community organizer in Chicago, Obama worked under a Jewish mentor to bring together Catholic, Protestant and Muslim groups to launch job training centers and educational enrichment programs on the south side of Chicago. He has lived the mission statement of the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, which took place in his home city over a century before he became President: “From now on the great religions of the world make war no longer on each other, and instead of on the giant ills that afflict humankind.”

Click here to read the entire article.

American Muslim Civic Identity

Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel

From the Washington Post,

The recent spate of high-profile news on Muslim-Americans can be summed up easily: horror and terror.

From Faisal Shahzad to Jihad Jane to the five young men caught on terror charges in Pakistan, it doesn’t take much for news organizations to pick up on the theme of the hour.

This scares me. First and foremost, the stories continue to scare me. I am as likely to be in Times Square and the victim of a terror attack as anybody else. If there is backlash because of that attack, it’s Muslims who stand to suffer the most. And whether or not I’m on that plane or by that car, the fact that there are violent extremists who call themselves Muslims, and there is a media environment that constantly repeats their mantra, in the end it is my faith — Islam — that is being linked to violence in the public imagination.

The high-profile actions of the few are overshadowing a trend that is capturing the many: the emergence of an American Muslim civic identity, which is to say, how Islam inspires its followers to be better citizens in America.

You can see this in three ways:

1) The work of American Muslim intellectuals – like Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah of the Nawawi Foundation, who is working to show not only how Islam is indigenous to America by articulating the compatibility of American and Muslim ideals, but also the important role that Muslims have played throughout the history of our nation. In his most recent paper, “Turks, Moors & Moriscos in Early America”, Dr. Abd-Allah writes, “The presence of Muslim peoples throughout the history of American attests to the fact that they have played a noteworthy role in the American experience.”

2) Muslim organizations that are emphasizing how Islam inspires Muslims not only to build a strong Muslim community, or to be strong in their private practice, but also to be excellent public citizens. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is holding its annual convention in Chicago this weekend. The theme is not “The True Meaning of the Qur’an” or “How to Dominate other Religious Groups”. The theme is “Nurturing Compassionate Communities: Connecting Faith and Service,” and the convention offers workshops like Nurturing Compassionate Communities through Interfaith Partnerships and Cooperation, Translating Faith into Service, and a Muslim Entrepreneurs’ Showcase.

3) The contributions of a growing generation of Muslim-American civic leaders. I have often written about the exceptional work of Rami Nashashibi, who runs the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on the South Side of Chicago. Here I want to highlight Nadia Roumani and her program The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI), which aims to empower emerging American Muslim civic leaders to help their communities engage in effective civic participation. The participants range from leaders of social service organizations to interfaith organizations – in other words, the type of civil leaders that religious communities in America have nurtured for generations and who this country relies on to strengthen the social fabric and contribute to the common good.

Click here to read the entire article

Achieving Interfaith at the Local Level

Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan ChicagoFrom The Chicago Tribune

Since it was founded more than two decades ago, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago has come to a consensus on issues such as housing and gun control, served as a resource for local law enforcement and brought religious leaders together to do work in the community.

But as the organization celebrates its 25-year anniversary, its leaders say that helping local congregations better address major social issues — such as poverty and violence — is crucial to meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

“One of the major challenges before us is how do we take what we’re doing at the top level … and get it down to the average person in the pew and on the prayer rug,” said the Rev. Stanley L. Davis, co-executive director of the council, which is made up of some of Chicago’s top religious leaders.

Helping local congregations take action on those issues is one way, said professor William Schweiker, director of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

“It is important to include congregations in these discussions,” said Schweiker. “It allows religious people a way to voice their concerns beyond the claims of ‘official’ statements.”

…Chicago has been the home of formal interfaith conversations since the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, a gathering of international religious leaders during the World’s Columbian Exposition. The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago was founded in 1985 by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who sought to tackle social injustices head on. Its core message to the city was clear: Your leaders of faith, however different, can sit at one table and tackle sensitive issues with respect and candor.

At the time, those religious leaders came from the city’s Christian and Jewish communities, but as Chicago has grown more diverse, so has the council. Today, its members also include Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians, Mormons, Sikhs and Baha’is.

…Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said continuing the discussion is what’s important.

“If people can come to the table and have sharp disagreements and really engage, to me that is the healthiest sign of navigating religious diversity,” he said.

Click here to read the entire article.

“Repair the World” Encourages Service

Repair the World

Repair the World

From The Washington Post

By Eboo Patel

Nothing is more exciting for me than seeing religious communities practice the command from their tradition to serve others. I had a chance to witness this at the early hour of 7 a.m. in New York today at a breakfast celebrating an emerging organization called Repair the World.

The prophets of our great traditions invoke calls to service – in scripture and verse, parable and hadith, service is a core value across faiths. And because it is a core part of these traditions, it ought to be a core part of both the life the community and religious identity. Repair the World was established to inspire American Jews and their communities to make service a defining part of American Jewish life – “to mobilize Jews to serve with integrity and authenticity” and to inspire and engage the Jewish community in service.

Part of what strikes me about this is the acknowledgment that service is a core part of the American Jewish identity. It suggests that service is a central responsibility of an engaged Jew – an integral part of contributing to the broader community.

Click here to read the entire article.

July 2nd, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Posted in News

Tagged with , , ,

Steven Prothero Blogs on Religion

From CNN,

Religion isn’t just for Republicans any more.srp9.130

One key to President Obama’s 2008 election victory was his willingness to speak openly about his personal faith and to connect the dots between his public policies and biblical values.

In his inaugural address, he famously described the United States not as a secular nation or a Christian nation but “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

Yesterday that patchwork nation was on display at the White House in an event on interfaith and community service on college campuses co-sponsored by the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and its Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

I spoke at this event about the necessity of moving out of the rut of Interfaith 1.0, which all too often made interfaith gatherings look like clubs of like-minded liberals patting themselves on the back for viewing all religions as different paths up the same mountain.

I am happy to report that Interfaith 2.0 was very much on display yesterday at the White House. Joshua DuBois, executive director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke repeatedly about the need for “authenticity” in interreligious work — of welcoming theological liberals and conservatives alike into the conversation and not insisting on a “syncretism” where all religions are presumed to be essentially the same.

Click here to read more.

June 19th, 2010 at 6:00 am

U.S Foreign Policy-Facilitating Religious Dialogue?

From a blog entry posted on PeaceNext,

On Tuesday night, June 10th in Chicago, Dirk Ficca, Eboo Patel, and Afeefa Syeed convened as part of a panel discussion moderated by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs entitled, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: One Year Post-Cairo”.

For those unfamiliar with these speakers, Dirk Ficca is the executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Eboo Patel is the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, and Afeefa Syeed is a
senior advisor at the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) Middle East and Asia sectors. The panel marked the anniversary of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo one year ago, wherein he made it an agenda of U.S. foreign policy to understand and promote religious diversity in its interactions with other nations. This would turn out to be an historic moment in U.S. foreign relations, as it admitted to its failure to adequately address the dynamics associated with an increasingly pluralistic world, as well as raising awareness of an inherent respect owed to religious and spiritual beliefs that had hitherto been, for the most part, ignored by the U.S. government.

The discussion was insightful and enlightening for those in attendance. It highlighted the great need for an appreciation of religious and spiritual life in foreign policy as well as society in general. Considering that each speaker is affiliated with different social and government agencies that do very different work, they were able to offer perspectives that allowed for a more comprehensive vision of what it means to promote public engagement of religious beliefs within a broad social context. Dirk Ficca noted the salience of religious and spiritual values in the human condition, its great contributions to political and social changes for present and past cultures, as well as the crisis it sometimes presents when a religion becomes embedded in political norms. Eboo Patel added to these comments by stressing the realities of a world becoming ever-more populated by youth who possess a power and presence in the global marketplace of ideas. Not only that, he appreciated the sensitivity of late adolescents and young adults who are searching for a sense of identity and a means for affecting a change in the world, all the while being influenced “by the winds of religion”, as he put it. Lastly, Afeefa Syeed added to these thoughts by offering her experience within a U.S. agency that is in the midst of a transition. This transition is intended to acknowledge religion as a major influencing factor in the areas U.S. representatives are working, and the ways in which the USAID is functioning more as a partner or mediator in communities, rather than as an authoritarian entity. One poignant description she had of this was working with a economically deprived community in Karachi, where her function was to ask the community leaders what was RIGHT or GOOD about their community, and working from that point forward in developing a plan to help.

Overall, each speaker agreed on the main points of their separate discussions. These points included the innate ability of religion to effect great good in the world, the increased need, now more than ever, for recognition among national and social entities regarding the value of religion and spirituality as a human quality that is neither diminishing nor able to be quenched, and the U.S.’s responsibility to respect and acknowledge this character in the myriad ways it is manifested in the world.

As with any discussion that is limited to only a few hours, however, there were several probing questions asked by both the moderators and members of the audience. One of these asked what the roles of non-profit organizations are for interfaith experiences. The moderator of the event, Rachel Bronson, asked a popular question, at least within the U.S., whether it might not be better to ignore or suppress religious identities, considering its tendency to influence violence in the world along with peace. Lastly, one question I was left with as an audience member was whether U.S. foreign policy is truly intent on becoming an active participant of religious dialogue for its fundamental worth, or whether this has simply been deemed an appropriate means for securing its own interests in a world it now recognizes as essentially religious. I leave these questions for you, users of PeaceNext, to ponder, as well as to comment on your perceptions of the panel discussion in general.

Click here to join PeaceNext and contribute to the conversation!

Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: One Year Post-Cairo

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dirk Ficca, Executive Director, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
Eboo Patel, Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core
Afeefa Syeed, Senior Culture and Development Advisor, Asia and Middle East Bureaus, U.S. Agency for International Development
Moderated by Rachel Bronson, Vice President for Programs and Studies, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

June 4, 2010 marks the first anniversary of President Obama’s speech at Cairo University, during which he outlined a path toward “a new beginning” with Muslim communities around the world. During his speech the President recognized the importance of engaging not only with governments but with economically and politically influential sectors of societies, including Muslim communities. It follows that the next steps will include a strategy to engage religious communities of all faiths in addressing pressing foreign policy challenges, and to build the institutional capacity to support it. The Chicago Council is particularly interested in the Administration’s follow-up to the Cairo speech given our recent task force report, Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy, which outlines specific policy recommendations towards such a strategy. Join us for an important conversation that will serve as both a one-year anniversary review of President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the Chicago presentation of The Chicago Council’s task force report.

Dirk FiccaDirk Ficca serves as executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Ficca worked closely with the religious and spiritual communities of the Chicago metropolitan area to plan and organize the 1993 Parliament event in Chicago. Ficca is an ordained Presbyterian minister and prior to joining the Council served for eleven years as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Benton Harbor, Michigan. He teaches at DePaul University, the Lutheran School of Theology, and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Eboo PatelEboo Patel is the founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement. He is author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is a board member at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and served as a member of the Chicago Council task force that produced Engaging Religious Communities Abroad. He holds a doctorate from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

Afeefa SyeedAfeefa Syeed is senior advisor at the USAID Middle East and Asia Bureaus. Syeed designs and implements initiatives and training to address issues of engaging traditional and religious leaders and institutions, radicalization, madrassah enhancement, mainstreaming gender, and other emerging programs in the Middle East and Asia. Her work has also included advising the White House, NSC, DOS, and DHS on the same issues. She has consulted with the UN Democracy Fund, World Bank, the U.S. State Department Office for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Department of Human Rights and Labor, and various in-country and international organizations.

The panel will be moderated by Rachel Bronson, Vice President for Programs and Studies, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The Chicago Club
81 East Van Buren Street
Chicago, IL 60605
Business attire is required.

5:30 p.m. Registration and reception
6:00 p.m. Presentation and discussion
7:15 p.m. Adjournment

Individuals $10
President’s Circle, Corporate Members, and Student Members complimentary

Register Now