The founder of an interfaith youth organization said both a reviled terrorist and a beloved American civil rights leader were influenced by religion — one for destruction and another for social change.
Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, said Osama bin Laden, the terrorist behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was influenced at a young age by a soccer coach who was an Islamic extremist. Patel said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by contrast, drew heavily from his Baptist upbringing and the influences of two prominent university presidents who spoke often of the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, for the themes of peaceful resistance that undergirded the U.S. civil rights movement King led.
Wednesday, during an interview with The Oklahoman, Patel said these are examples of what happens when people use faith as “bombs of destruction” while others build “bridges of cooperation.”
“It was clear to me that religion was powerful and in some ways that power was used destructively,” Patel said during his visit to Oklahoma City University, 2501 N Blackwelder. “And then, I found how inspiring religion can be, in the form of Martin Luther King Jr., in the form of Gandhi, in the form of Dorothy Day or in the form of Rumi.”
Patel, a Muslim, drew a crowd of about 800 people to OCU's Freede Center. The noted author of the books “Acts of Faith” and “Sacred Ground,” gave his presentation as part of the United Methodist-affiliated school's Distinguished Speaker Series. His visit was sponsored by OCU and the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma.
Patel said there is an “ugly side of religion” and also an inspirational side that serves as a catalyst for good. He said his interest in encouraging young people to create meaningful interfaith relationships and cooperation was spurred to combat that ugliness and nurture the inspirational aspect.
Wednesday, Patel said he was encouraged to see that OCU leaders make interfaith awareness a priority on campus. He lauded the college for having an Islamic Studies program and for its activities designed to nurture interfaith dialogue and interfaith leaders among students.