Interfaith Youth Movement for Peace

By Walsh, Josh | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Interfaith Youth Movement for Peace


Walsh, Josh, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a seminar on "Advancing the Interfaith Youth Movement for Peace" on June 10 in Washington, DC. The speakers represented a variety of organizations that are engaging young people around the world as partners and future leaders in interfaith works.

Eboo Patel, director and founder of Inter Faith Youth Core (IYFC) in Chicago, said that the interfaith movement should look beyond diversity and work for pluralism. The difference, he explained, is that the former is simply a fact of demographics, when people of different backgrounds live next to each other in the same place. Diversity becomes pluralism when these people engage each other through positive interaction. The aim of the interfaith movement, then, is for religious communities to move from simple coexistence to a working partnership for the common good.

Patel cited several factors in the importance of engaging youth in an interfaith context: the "youth bulge" that is bringing down the average age of the world's population; the inability of traditional livelihoods to provide income for the next generation; what it means to be an individual in this new globalized world; and the ongoing religious revival happening across the globe.

This last factor reflects a sea change from the popular understanding of the role of religion just a decade ago. Describing the late 1990s, when he studied Islam and religious diversity, Patel recalled, "The sentiment among many of my colleagues was that if you care about religion at the end of the 20th century you might as well be a member of the flat earth society."

According to David Smock, vice president of USIP's Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, "There now exists a healthy curiosity about other faiths, which is increasingly important as stereotypes are promulgated and as caricatures breed contempt and mutual hostility." He cautioned that "in places with inter-religious tension and where youth can be exposed to extremism" it is critically important to offer creative educational and interfaith encounters.

Unfortunately, the youth component of interfaith dialogue is often overlooked, even though religious extremism is most visible among the young, while interfaith collaboration is mostly seen with the old. "How then," Patel asked, "do we have young people more engaged as producers, as leaders of interfaith cooperation? …

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