The mark of a truly educated person is understanding those of different religions, interfaith leader Eboo Patel told BYU students in a BYU forum on Oct. 20.
“Imagine some of the causes you might feel strongly about, and where you might encounter Jews alongside you,” Patel said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to lean over to them and to say, ‘Hey, I learned in a class at Brigham Young University about tikkun olam, repairing the world, could you tell me more about that?”
Patel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to make interfaith cooperation a vital part of the college experience, and ultimately a positive force in our society.” He told students that as professionals in a religiously pluralistic society, they should be prepared to have appreciative conversations with people of other faiths, even those with whom they doctrinally disagree.
That type of cooperation is important, Patel said, because the the success of major social movements can be attributed to religious people of different faiths working together. He cited movements led by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as examples.
Throughout his address, Patel showed images of religious people cooperating to do good: Jewish and Muslim ambulance drivers pausing for a moment of prayer, a Hindu woman working in a soup kitchen, Christians at a national disaster cleanup.
Referencing the recent Hurricane Delta, Patel said, “Whatever damage it causes, the people who will be helping folks after that damage are people of faith.”
Patel encouraged students to think about what they would want to know when interacting with someone from a differing religious background. He said religious literacy will make students better doctors, emergency responders, coaches, teachers, and members of civic and professional communities.
Patel said his own life has been deeply influenced by a friend and a former girlfriend who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I think that the people who do not receive some appreciative knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of your ethics, of your history, of the movement west, from the Burned-Over District in New York state through Nauvoo all the way into Utah and what that journey meant, I think that they’re missing something. I think they lack something in their education. And everywhere I go, whether it’s Harvard, or Notre Dame, or Stanford, I point that out,” he said.
Similarly, Patel encouraged BYU students to become more informed about other religions as part of their education.
A study by Interfaith Youth Core found that only 22% of students dedicated time while in college to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patel said BYU students have a great opportunity not only to be committed to sharing the gospel, but to cooperation, appreciation and interfaith leadership.
“We have the ability to bridge religious divides,” Patel said. “It’s one of the most important problems in the world today.”