Interfaith Leader Highlights Forum on Obama’s Campus Challenge
April 25, 2012 – America is built on religious diversity and acceptance, Eboo Patel, a member of President Obama's inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, told a Georgetown audience today.
Patel served as keynote speaker for the year-end symposium celebrating Georgetown’s participation in the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
Obama’s initiative engages nearly 400 campuses around the country in interfaith cooperation and community service.
“It is inspiring to come to a campus that is continuing to model what interfaith cooperation can and should look like,” said Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago nonprofit that works to bring together young people of different faiths for open dialogue.
The university has been an active participant in the presidential initiative since the program’s inception last fall.
“As a Catholic and Jesuit university, the pursuit of interfaith understanding is deeply rooted in Georgetown’s tradition,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “This year President Obama’s challenge has given us the opportunity to renew and strengthen our commitment to this essential aspect of our mission.”
The symposium, sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Campus Ministry and the Center for Social Justice, Research, Teaching & Service, offered opportunities for faculty, staff, students and community members to talk from an interfaith standpoint about community challenges such as poverty and education inequality.
Georgetown has hosted six Interfaith Challenge roundtable discussions with students, faculty and staff on topics such as the power of volunteering.
The university also created a new community service project for first-year students to engage in soon after they arrive on campus for the fall semester.
Also added is a post-alternate spring break trip dialogue on the role faith plays in student experiences. Several university departments and centers also sponsored interfaith events, such as a 9/11 memorial and a Thanksgiving prayer service.
Patel, the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (Beacon Press, 2007), is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today, NPR and CNN.
He said that students often reinforce their own beliefs by engaging in interfaith dialogue.
“Their leadership in creating interfaith events helps them reflect on and strengthen their own faith traditions,” Patel said.
Aamir Hussain (C’14), president of Georgetown’s Interfaith Council, can attest to that.
“At Georgetown, I’ve found my own Muslim tradition to become stronger as I’ve gained an appreciation for other religious communities here,” he said.
Hussain also said he finds religion to be a powerful unifying force at Georgetown.
“It builds connections across campus,” he explained.
College campuses are a great place to foster interfaith cooperation, said Patel, who believes the future of interfaith collaboration is lies in students’ hands.
“Bridges don’t just arise out of thin air,” Patel said. “People build bridges between communities and different faiths. If you’re not going to do it, who is?”