This week, on our sixth episode of Trailblazers, we are joined by Dr Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nonprofit organisation based in Chicago that prepares youth to become interfaith leaders in a changing environment. Eboo was also a member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural advisory council on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. A Rhodes scholar with a doctorate in sociology from Oxford University, Eboo has authored four books, with a fifth on the way. In recognition of his life’s work, Eboo has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees.

Eboo was in South Africa in 1999, amidst anxious volatility, where Nelson Mandela made a speech about people of diverse backgrounds coming together in the movement against apartheid, to build the rainbow nation of South Africa. Inspired by the power of the speech and the importance of pluralism, this was the catalyst for Eboo’s vision to bring interfaith cooperation into the 21st century. 

Interfaith Youth Core, an organisation which works with racial minority groups, visits university and college campuses across the United States, encouraging conversations on religious diversity between students, faculty, and staff. Their vision is for students to be taught to embrace pluralism, and build bridges of cooperation instead of barriers of division. 

The relationship between the work of IFYC and “a nation that does not yet exist” is to build lasting, religiously-diverse democracy, by educating young people to take on this work. Not without its challenges, the threads that bind the two together are founded on the communal values of tolerance, hope, generosity, mercy, and compassion, suggesting that we have a responsibility to build on these for the future. 

Through IFYC, Eboo’s focus is on building institutions and creating spaces of pluralism with the aim of promoting interfaith cooperation and spaces of public safety. Recognising that there may be disagreements between diverse religious orientations, Eboo talks about diversity as not just the differences you like. He says that having a focused activity is the key ingredient to interfaith cooperation. Eboo gives the example of everyone working inside a hospital, with varying backgrounds, working towards the focused goal of healing: “You have to have a focused activity where you can bring the depth of our religious identity.”

Eboo grew up in an Ismaili family that always put service first and stressed the importance of tolerance and pluralism. Now in a multi-faith marriage, where his children attend a Catholic school, Eboo talks about different doctrinal beliefs and how he and his family deal with differences in religion and areas of commonality. Conversations are held “in a way that recognises difference, even disagreement, but doesn’t allow those differences to turn into divisions and doesn’t allow those differences to prevent cooperation.”

In this enlightening 30-minute interview, we hear his opinion on the current political climate and the challenges of building lasting peace in religious diversity and democracy. We also learn much more about IFYC’s work, and how interfaith cooperation is about building bridges, clearing spaces, respect, and the preservation of dignity. 

This episode will air live on Friday, 9 April 9, 2021, on The Ismaili TV at 10 am,2:30 pm, 8 pm, and 11 pm (Toronto); 9 am, 3 pm, and 7:30 pm (Dubai); 1 pm, 7 pm, and 11:30 pm (London).

After airing, this episode will also be available to watch in full on The Ismaili TV On Demand.

On the last episode of Trailblazers, we heard from Danish Dhamani, co-founder of Orai, who was also named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. You can now watch the episode here.

Previous episodes of Trailblazers have featured interviews with Salma Lakhani, Farah Williamson, Latif Nasser, and Rahim Daya, which can be viewed On Demand