Interfaith champion will speak Friday at Queens University of Charlotte

Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel has his work cut out for him. At a time when America has become a deeply divided country, he’s promoting religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation.

A 39-year-old Muslim who grew up in Illinois, he co-founded the Interfaith Youth Core with a Jewish friend, has written two books and has worked with the White House on interfaith initiatives.

A popular speaker at college campuses, Patel will be at Queens University of Charlotte Friday morning to speak on “The Art and Science of Interfaith Cooperation.”

The key to nurturing better relations between religions, Patel told the Observer, is for more people to acquire “appreciative knowledge” of other faiths and the best they have to offer.

Here’s more of what he said.

On the key role for young people: “We think the best environment (for interfaith cooperation) is college campuses. They have a concentration of people from different backgrounds. They take people’s identities seriously. Young people have a hugely important role to play. Many of our interfaith heroes were young when they started: Martin Luther King was a student in his early 20s when he began studying Gandhi (and civil disobedience).”

On Franklin Graham’s portrayal of Islam as evil: “I’m going to look on the bright side. I have great admiration of how Billy Graham changed his view of the Catholic Church. He went from opposing John F. Kennedy (because of his Catholicism) in 1960 to meeting personally with the pope (in the 1980s). I think what happened is that Billy Graham learned a lot about Catholicism (in the interim). He acquired appreciative knowledge of Catholicism. … Mr. Franklin Graham can do the same when it comes to Islam.”

On the recent controversy over whether Muslims could broadcast their call to prayer from the chapel bell tower at Duke University: “Duke does as good a job as any in the country in proactively and protectively engaging in religious diversity. They have two full-time (staffers) who work with Muslims. … I think it was an unfortunate situation, but I don’t think it should besmirch Duke’s reputation as being a model.”

On trying to offer an alternative to conflict: “Faith can be a bunker of isolation, a barrier of division, a bludgeon of domination or a bridge of cooperation. There are lots of forces in the world investing in bunkers, barriers and bludgeons. We are doing our best to lift up the builders of bridges.”

On the increased anti-Muslim rhetoric in America: “You can’t write Muhammad Ali out of the American story. You can’t write out the man who designed the Sears Tower (Fazlur Rahman Khan) and you can’t write out the 20 percent of African slaves who were Muslim. Muslims have been here forever. … I think the most un-American thing you can do is write another people out of the American story.”

On those who conflate Islam with terrorism: “The extremists in the world who call themselves Muslim are mostly to blame. But those who say the only Islam is a murderous kind of Islam are basically communications officers of the extremists. … They’re partnering with the extremists in a twisted interpretation of Islam.”

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Want to go?

Eboo Patel will speak at 9 a.m. Friday in Ketner Auditorium at the Sykes Learning Center, Queens University of Charlotte.

It’s free, but registration and parking passes are required. Visit