Author talks religious divide in America

Eboo Patel spoke to an audience of students and faculty at the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts about his experiences living in America under a scrutiny due to his background on Wednesday, March 1. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session and a book signing for Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America.

Author Eboo Patel visited the University of Connecticut as part of UConn Reads to speak on the religious divide in America and how to come together with people of different backgrounds.

Patel is the author of “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Power of America” and “Interfaith Leadership: A Primer,” both of which focus on understanding and dialogue among people of different backgrounds, and more specifically religions. Patel also served as a member under President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel recalled a comical personal story of his childhood growing up in a predominately white neighborhood. Patel said he felt like an outsider as a child and was excited to be invited to a classmate’s birthday party.

“I was one happy brown kid in the white western suburbs of Chicago,” Patel said, to the laughter of the audience.

Patel explained that his mom learned his classmate’s parents would be serving hot dogs at the party. Being Muslim, Patel can’t eat pork, so his mother sent him with a plastic bag of beef hot dogs. Patel was embarrassed until he found another child at the party, who was Jewish, who also had to bring his own hot dogs.

Patel used the story as an example of finding common ground between people of different backgrounds.

David Ellner is a fourth-semester communication and pre-law major and said Patel’s personal story really drove his point home.

“It doesn’t matter what religion you are… it comes down to the bottom line of treating each other with respect,” Ellner said.

As part of Patel’s slideshow he joked could be called “Ways I am Not Going Insane in 2017,” he showed a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with a framed picture of Gandhi on the wall behind King. While King and Gandhi were from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, King drew inspiration from Gandhi.

Patel also emphasized the time and effort it takes to enact change, specifically in King’s case.

“The way we are taught about the Montgomery bus boycott in American high schools is something like this: Rosa Parks was tired one day and didn’t feel like getting up and… God dropped Martin Luther King Jr. from heaven and then he waved a magic wand and then we elected Barack Obama,” Patel joked.

While he drew laughs, there were times when Patel became serious and the audience fell silent.

Patel admitted he feels the need to continue learning about people of different backgrounds. He said people of vastly different political backgrounds can form alliances under America’s current political climate.

“There are lots and lots and lots of people with whom I would politically disagree on most things who are aghast at the levels of prejudice, xenophobia, Islamophobia, et cetera coming from the seat of our government today,” Patel said.

Madiha Shafqat is an eighth-semester political science major and founder of the Together Project, a new student-led organization committed to bringing people together to combat Islamophobia. The Together Project debuted on campus during Patel’s UConn visit.

Shafqat said Patel’s visit was the perfect place to introduce the Together Project because of his focus on religious tolerance.

“We were planning to have a really powerful launch and this event has so much to do with religious tolerance and creating a more pluralistic society,” Shafqat said. “That’s what our project is all about.”

Patel ended his talk with a Woody Guthrie quote.

“I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, where you come from, what your papers say. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work,” Patel said.


Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at schae.beaudoin@uconn.edu.