VALPARAISO | The significance of having the nation honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day it celebrated the second inauguration of its first black president wasn’t lost on Eboo Patel, who said both men built bridges between people of different religions.
As part of Valparaiso University’s observance of Martin Luther King Day, Patel was the featured speaker at a convocation Monday at the Chapel of the Resurrection. Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core and a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
A Muslim who has written two books on interfaith cooperation and has been a speaker at colleges and universities across the country, Patel talked about when King, a future Baptist minister, was a young college student who became inspired by Mahatma Ghandi, which would lead him to view faith not as a barrier of division but as a bridge of cooperation.
“What inspires me about Martin Luther King Jr. is not only was he a great American intellectual, not only that he was probably the greatest American leader of the 20th Century, not just that he was a great civil rights leader or great African-American hero, but that Martin Luther King Jr., in addition to all those things, was a great interfaith hero,” Patel said.
Patel attended the first inauguration of Obama and recalled the president saying we are a nation of Christians and Jews, of Muslims and Hindus and non-believers. He said like King, Obama’s path to becoming an interfaith leader began in his early 20s.
“If there was one thing core to King’s vision, core to Obama’s vision, is the big idea that human beings from all different nations and all different ways are not better apart but better together,” Patel said. “What connects the two men is a bridge of American history, a bridge of African-American history, a bridge of civil rights history – and also a bridge of interfaith history.”
Patel then asked the university students in the chapel about their own paths of interfaith leadership and “what bridges are you building?”
“Where in your heart resonates the idea we are better together in a world that’s trying to convince us every day that we’re better divided?” Patel asked.
Valparaiso University’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. continues through Thursday. For information visit www.valpo.edu/mlk.