Eboo Patel on Interfaith Dialogue

Shortly after the Park51 issue, Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core and member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships Eboo Patel, spoke at Loyola for this year’s Convocation. Below is my response to his address in Loyola University’s  newspaper, The Phoenix.

As an extremely insignificant percentage of people in the East spew hatred and violence in the name of Islam, simultaneously, certain ideologues in the West try to profit off of marketing this convoluted and completely misunderstood version of Islam as the one followed by the estimated 1.57 billion Muslims around the world. Caught in the middle of this ideological war are American Muslims, who are trying to deplore extremist religious notions, while also protecting their identities here at home and asserting themselves as simply peaceful human beings. This damaging of Islam’s true reputation, coupled with recent events, such as the Park51 issue, is brewing a fear and hatred of the Islamic faith and its followers in America. Therefore, as an American Muslim I would like to sincerely thank The Phoenix for its piece on Eboo Patel, and for providing a forum for discussing religious diversity, especially at a time when Islamophobia is becoming deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of some Americans.

I would like to take a closer look at two issues that Patel mentioned: religious injustice in this country, and the need for dialogue in order to successfully eradicate barriers. As for the first issue, for instance, those not in favor of the Park51 project justify their stance through being sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 families. However, by asserting that building an Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan is insensitive to 9/11 families, the claimant is wrongfully equating moderate mainstream Muslims with terrorists, as Patel also echoes. Pretty much any Muslim in America and throughout the world will tell you that they have absolutely nothing in common with the religious ideology of the terrorists of 9/11, so how is it that a significant percentage of Americans believe otherwise? As a country that prides itself on being the most educated, we have a lot of work to do. Americans must learn to not blindly follow the profit loving mainstream media and instead have an open mind and delve into their own research for the truth.

The solution to issues stemming from religious diversity, such as the one above, is direct dialogue. Patel rightfully notes that if not dealt with in its primary stages, religious diversity may give rise to “latent prejudices” later on. Many Islamic traditions also openly advocate the need for Muslims to not only live in peace, but also to engage in dialogue alongside their non-Muslim counterparts. In one verse of the Qur’an, the holy text of Muslims, God commands the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, to tell Christians and Jews to find common ground amongst them and to worship none but God alone (Qur’an 3:64). Also echoing this verse’s meaning is the Constitution of Medina. The Constitution was a legal contract, prepared under the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, that protected the rights of people of different faiths. Through its implementation of respect and tolerance amongst people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, the Constitution encouraged people to stimulate co-operation and dialogue. If a man was able to engage in religious dialogue over 1,430 years ago, and I am sure that he was certainly not the only one, then I am more than hopeful that we today, with all of our technology and resources, are able to bring about this change again. And so, I invite my fellow Loyolans and citizens to implement Patel’s noble example of interfaith cooperation and dialogue, as they lead their extraordinary lives.

September 5th, 2010

Sania Sufi is a student at Loyola University in Chicago IL. She is a B.A candidate for 2011 in Islamic World Studies, History, and Political Science.

For more on Sania Sufi, visit her website .

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