It’s a sad fact that when we hear about Muslims in the news these days, it’s usually about fundamentalists blowing people up in the name of global jihad. But as I watched public broadcasting’s excellent Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program a couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to a Muslim who is the antithesis of that unfortunate stereotype. His name is Eboo Patel, a 31-year-old Indian-American Muslim who is the founder and leader of a movement called the Interfaith Youth Core.
The Interfaith Youth Core is a college organization that currently exists on fifty US campuses. Its purpose is “to create a new generation of leaders—religiously inspired activists who can change the conversation from one of interreligious conflict to cooperation among people of different faiths.” Patel’s conviction is that while the world’s faith traditions do have differences between them, they also have “shared values,” and people of different faiths can join together and act on these shared values. With this conviction as their touchstone, Interfaith Youth Core groups come together to talk about their shared values and find ways to act on them. In Patel’s words: “What can we do together?”
The shared value Patel focuses on most is the value of compassion and selfless service to others. “Show me a religion that doesn’t care about compassion,” he says. “Show me a religion that doesn’t care about hospitality.” So, the main thing these groups do together is service projects—things like tutoring, working in homeless shelters, and aiding refugees. Patel hopes that these activities will show the world that while religious totalitarians like the jihadists may appear to be on the rise, in fact the vast majority of people are religious pluralists who want to live together in harmony. “Today you will do something that seems small. But the blanket that you make will warm a refugee child when she goes to sleep, and the things that you say to the people next to you will give them a window into Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism that they might not have had before.”
While I was watching this, I was thinking, “This is so Course.” Like Patel, the Course acknowledges differences between the world’s paths of awakening—think, for instance, of the Course’s critique of traditional Christianity—yet affirms that underneath those differences, they have shared values and a common purpose. As I watched Patel training “a new generation of leaders” of different faiths, young people with a calling to go forth and bring a message of harmony to the world, I thought of the Course’s description of the teachers of God:
They come from all over the world. They come from all religions and from no religion. They are the ones who have answered. The Call is universal. It goes on all the time everywhere. It calls for teachers to speak for It and redeem the world. (M-1.2:1-6)
Finally, I was struck by the fact that the main shared value they’re acting on—compassion and selfless service—is a value shared by the Course as well. Course students often don’t see selfless service as a prominent Course value, but in fact extension of healed perception to others in thought, word, and deed is the Course’s pathway home. It is a course in miracles, after all, and a miracle is described in the very first section of the Text as “the maximal service you can render to another…a way of loving your neighbor as yourself” (T-1.I.18:2-3). I’m very inspired by Patel and his young students’ devotion to loving their neighbors as themselves in the name of global brotherhood and sisterhood. Their question is a good one for all of us to contemplate: In a world seemingly torn asunder by conflict, especially religious conflict, what can we do together?
Source of material commented on: Eboo Patel
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[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]